When anger just gets in the way

Earlier this week I had an “Enough is enough!” moment.  It was late at night, I was trying to wind down and get to bed, and I made the mistake of reading a news story that upset me terribly.  I can’t even remember what the story was about, but I do remember that it pushed a button.

The “Offended by injustice and boiling over with rage” button.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve succumbed to the quick adrenaline fix of the media; in fact, you’d think that I went out looking for stories that were bound to upset me, just so that I could feel that mad rush of emotions.  Something was different this time, though.  Even as it was happening I was acutely aware of my role in the process, and my responsibility for deliberately putting myself in harm’s way.

Yes, harm.  There’s nothing positive about these moments, and enough negatives — in particular, an increase in blood pressure and overall stress — to make this potentially dangerous to physical as well as mental health.  It also runs counter to my aspiration to practise more Stoic principles, in particular to focus on things that I can control.

I’m reasonably sure that an event that has already happened, in a place that I’ll probably never go, to people I’ve never met, does not fall into the “things I can control” category.

Sometimes there are concrete ways to participate in putting something right — a kind word, a donation to a fund-raising campaign, contacting someone in government or industry who is in a position to move things in a more positive direction.  Sometimes we’re just collateral damage in someone else’s unfortunate story, flailing out in our helplessness and participating by raging.

As I said earlier, enough is enough.  Giving in to helpless anger isn’t helping me or anyone else.  Indulging it is a bad habit, which means that it can be overwritten by a better habit.  The next time I’m faced with this kind of situation, the first thing I intend to do is pause and ask “What should I do about this?”  The second thing is to take that action, even if the action is to close the browser window and take a long, deep breath.

 

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