Almost Everyone is Angry: How to Do Better
Almost everyone is angry but some of us want to know how to ‘be better’ in the face of increasing anger and hateful discourse. In my last workshop, Lisa, a customer service specialist, said it this way:
“I am not prepared to deal with people who are nastier than ever. They don’t just call and want a refund. They attack and insult you in the lowest, most personal, and vicious way. It’s like they call wanting someone to fight with.”
Whether you are in line at the DMV, helping in a customer service role, or working at a front desk, you need to recognize that you can’t fight against anger. If you fight something, you give it power.
This advice may sound like a platitude or a bromide, but you can’t deny its truth.
An angry reaction cannot help but provoke a more violent response. It is the destructive nature of fighting and retaliation to tear down, destroy, belittle, oppress, crush…I could go on.
“Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.” — Mark Twain
Be mindful of a deeper reality
No one hates you. How could they? They don’t even know you.
They may have opinions and judgments about you, but they don’t know you. Opinions and judgments are ideas, constructs.
Look closely. Anger, conflict, and fighting come from within. It’s a secondary upwelling of deeper and darker energy such as insecurity, unhappiness, or worthlessness. Someone may say you are making them angry, but the reality is they are spewing toxicity outward, and it lands with you.
If you are not mindful of this fact — while you’re being yelled at, threatened, and demoralized, you react and take on their pain. It becomes your affliction. You feel it. Your mind activity becomes dominated by their pain. You grumble and ruminate on why….. or how you’ll teach them a lesson someday. The truth is, you’ve given them the power to disrupt, push your buttons, or ruin your day.
When you’re on the lookout, earnestly trying to understand why this is, you’ll see it’s everywhere. Consider the divorce rate or the ubiquitous ‘bad manager.’
Examine human history and see how we fight and persecute our own. It’s a dysfunction in the human condition. It starts at home, it’s at school, then work, escalating at each juncture.
Watch your neighbors fight. See it at your kid’s soccer game, at professional baseball/football/basketball games, in road rage incidents. Watch the evening news.
You’re not angry….. You have insight that points to the level of attention we need to give this effort
“Do you imagine the universe is agitated? Go into the desert at night and look at the stars. This practice should answer the question.” –Lao Tzu
Show your better side
Recent research found that retribution and going to battle with angry people is rooted in an emotional impulse. Someone lashes out sharply, and you react in-kind, eye for an eye.
But when deliberate thought is introduced, conflict escalation is reduced.
In other words, if we react to an angry confrontation at the intuitive level, we engage with our primal (fight or flight) brain and, we impulsively escalate conflicts. You could say we take the bait, hook line, and sinker because we are literally sinking. Fully engaged, the primal brain shifts blood (liquid life) away from the part of the brain responsible for self-regulation. From this state, you react with mindlessness.
But if we mindfully pause and create a space, we engage the prefrontal cortex portion of your highly evolved human brain. This large mass of grey matter governs executive faculties like self-awareness, self-control, focused attention, rational thought and judgment.
If you can stay mindful (in real-time) of the fact that angry and obnoxious people are profoundly suffering and your wellbeing is at risk, you become powerful in two ways.
- The angry and obnoxious person has no power over you. Their anger stays confined to originating entity. You retain your good nature and in control over your mood and your day.
- You operate from the highly evolved prefrontal cortex, which means you are composed, self-aware, and, using rationally focused attention, you are navigating to be better.
Notice that we can employ understanding in the space of a pause. When you use the prefrontal cortex’s focusing power, you instinctively engage in higher levels of perception.
Almost everyone is angry because……mindfulness is not automatic
The definition that Jon Kabat Zinn gives for mindfulness is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” We can simplify it and say that mindfulness is noticing. If you notice, you are engaged and mindful, and if you don’t notice, you are absent.
Noticing sounds simple but don’t confuse simple with easy. Mindfulness is a special quality that doesn’t come natural or automatically. It takes an uncommon, focused effort.
Our minds are naturally away, checked out, on autopilot almost 47% of the time. You could say that we are predisposed to mindlessness.
This research confirms what we’ve known since at least 1890.
William James, the first professor to offer a psychology course in the United States, noticed this in 1890 when he commented, “The faculty of bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgment, character and will. No one is compos sui if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”
The mind naturally wanders. That’s why noticing and attention are essential. If you notice that you are bored, irritated, or apathetic, you’re probably creeping back into mindlessness.
Redirecting your attention to mindfulness builds character and inner strength. You’ll be prepared to bring awareness, composure and, empathy to your next encounter.
You’ll not only navigate the angry and obnoxious parts of the world; you will change them.
© Brian Braudis 2020, All rights reserved
Tags: Anger, Higher Levels of Perception, Mindful, Mindfulness