I found out that I do something weird: I sometimes try whipping myself up with anger when I'm not actually angry.
I first noticed this Friday while I was at work. The short of it is I needed a manager to check my work and none could be found. I was late for lunch by nearly 20 minutes. And while I wasn't angry, I was talking to myself. A lot. About how stupid the situation was, about how irresponsible the mangers were. I kept going on until realized I didn't believe a word I was saying. I was only trying to get myself upset.
I did it again today, too. As I was driving home from my parents' house, almost every other driver in front of me failed to use their turn signals. Once again, I started bad talking these drivers (to my wife, so at least I wasn't talking to myself this time), only to stop myself when I realized I was trying to goad myself into anger.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized most of my anger came from this type of talking. And I couldn't help but to think, why? Why am I trying to get myself upset over something that's clearly not making me upset?
Having read Seneca's On Anger, I believe I know fully agree with him that anger is a short-term madness. After all, how is trying to disrupt a calm state of mind so willingly anything but insane? Actually, this is worse: those suffering from a mental illness often don't have a choice in the matter when it comes to this. But here I am, trying to will angry and hurtful thoughts into my mind.
But why? Why would I do this? What's the point?
I know anger doesn't fix a thing. I've caused (or made worse) too many fights by letting myself fly off the handle. When I see other people get angry over, well, anything, I see how foolish it is. I can't even see a good reason to feign anger (something Seneca recommends in certain cases).
It didn't take too long, but I figured it out: I made myself anger because that seemed like the thing to do.
I've heard it a few times from my sister-in-law and even from other people. “Sure, he exploded, but at least that shows he cares.”
Yikes. And to think I used to agree with that idea.
Well before I discovered Stoicism, I often wondered why I did get anger over stupid things, like video games or feelings of being snubbed. It came down to the idea that we, as a society, tend to think that stronger emotions mean stronger care, and what emotion is stronger than anger?
Mother-in-law says something that rubs you the wrong way? Get angry, that's the normal thing. Spouse is mad over something you did for no reason? Get angry and they'll think twice.
Anger is something to do. It means you care. It means you have passion. It means you're not willing to be walked all over.
But that's all wrong.
Anger is something wicked. It means you're weak. You have no control over your emotions. It means you're willing to run everyone over to protect yourself.
I'm not perfect. Far from it. I know I'll still get angry, even after this weekend's revelations. It's a problem I've had for a long time and I know it isn't going to away with just two days' worth of heavy thinking. But now I'm starting to get why I get mad. And I'm starting to realize just how dumb, selfish, and weak I am for ever letting that emotion into my life.