Abusive.. Derisive.. Bitter.. Just some of the words I would use to describe my behavior. How could I sink so low? I let myself become everything I hate; the repulsive side of the human condition. The ugly act of preying on the weak, making oneself feel strong. Wanting to make my target submit to my will, to beg for me to cease this tyranny, this destruction, this madness.. Yes, that was me. And yet I could not succeed. My victim did not speak, nor cry, nor beg. Instead, it lay on the ground broken, it's contents spread amongst the glassy debris. It took me a few seconds to realise that I wasn't dealing with a living thing. Instead, I had launched my furious tirade against a jar of mayonnaise; Helman's Mayonnaise. This particular jar had made the fatal mistake of jumping from it's position on an overcrowded fridge shelf after someone had tried to squeeze a carton of orange juice along side it. Shattered on the tiled floor, it's last moments witnessed a grown man pointing, swearing and stamping on the floor with widened eyes and and a reddening face. How attractive.
Anyone who knows me may be surprised to learn that this gentle soul is capable of such moments (although a few will not). From an early age, I've been prone to lashing out ferociously against something that challenges the plans i make, be it big or small. I can recall several occasions where my brother, five years my elder, would imitate me being in a frantic state. Even at the tender age of seven or eight I would wince at the thought of myself in these blind tantrums. This, perhaps, contributed to the fact that such outbursts remained confined to the homestead. In school, in the company of many a child with the same tendencies to lose control, I never even approached the same level of frustration. Probably because I was good at steering clear of trouble and confrontation. Indeed, the older I got, the less any people would witness these episodes. Instead, they became more common when people weren't around. As a result it was inanimate objects that would suffer the consequences of my inability to stay calm when the littlest things went wrong. It's only been in the last year or so that I've began to consider what is really going on during these moments of rage.
What is it that anger seeks? What is it yearning for? Control; order; security. Concepts that have eluded and continue to elude mankind since the advent of civilisation. As a longtime student of history, I've become well acquainted with the fact that human society have always struggled to produce genuine stability and security. It has also become apparent how common it is for human beings to overestimate our capabilities to control the world around us. Take for example, the fact that the world's only hyperpower, the United States, cannot plug a leak at the bottom of the ocean, resulting in the worst environmental catastrophe in living memory. Or closer to home, where the people of Ireland have painfully digested the fact that the Celtic Tiger died a whimpering death after being neglected by those entrusted to protect it. Consider that on one sunny day, in Wordsworth's sacred Lake District, an average, everyday Joe Soap decided that he would end the lives of whoever happened to be around. The erratic nature of unfortunate happenings isn't just felt on a collective level, on the contrary, it is reflected in the individual lives of every man, woman and child on the face of the earth. Phrases like 'Shit Happens' and 'Everybody's fucked up' wouldn't carry any weight if they didn't resonate with our perception of life and the lives around us.
Even with such universal truths abound, there remains a distinct inclination in many people to try and exact a stringent control over their lives. Such behaviour is probably a response to previous psychological trauma, usually in childhood. As children, we may have found ourselves in some sort of turbulent environment, helpless to arrive at a feeling of security. At the most impressionable time of our lives, a mental template of intense fear and fundamental absence of control is formed. Fearing that such suffering might replicate at sometime later on, the mind resolves to operate much more cautiously. Day to day existence becomes an unnecessary negotiation with a threat that is only very minimal. Rather than realising that our previous turmoil can be explained, understood and dealt with, we instead repress the experience and maintain our veneer of content. Our whole approach to life is one of self-defense. Our days become dominated by fear and the rewards of risk remain permanently out of reach. And yet our sense of being in control is fundamentally weak. It is a control full of doubt and underestimation of ourselves. It's raison d'etre is to prevent us from feeling vulnerable. Inevitably, we do eventually find ourselves in situations where we feel helpless. As our self-perception of being in control crumbles around us, the haunting vulnerability of before returns. Surrounded by the feelings we sought so hard to escape, our thoughts and actions lose all rationale. Snap!
But why the jar of mayonnaise? Is one broken glass enough to unearth my feeling of self-control? Not quite. It would be more appropriate to say that such innocuous events only shake the foundations. Common sense would usually dawn on me only seconds after it had seemed the whole world was collapsing. After such episodes, I would usually struggle to understand why I had lost my temper so easily. And why lose my temper at all? It was only when a sibling related his particular thought pattern during his 'snap' moments that I realised what I was actually doing. Flowing through my mind in these few seconds was a mantra of negative thoughts and a slideshow of moments I would rather forget. Those few seconds of frenzy represented a boiling over of bubbling thoughts and memories. Even though the loss of control was minimal and basically irrelevant, the over proportionate reaction
signaled to what extent I felt I needed to defend myself. Yet, the only abiding feeling I would end up with is one of sorrow and regret. Extreme anger is not a natural reaction; it is a regressive learned behavior that serves only to shroud, rather than solve, the problems that confront us. Happily, I can say that I have managed to gain a much better understanding of broken glasses, dodgy Internet connections or whatever else upsets the fluidity of my day. A quiet and simple 'Bollocks' seems to suffice.
Despite being an unstable, unreliable and unforgiving emotion, political leaders have often used anger to create an indignation that suits their pursuit of power. Would the Bush administration have been able to invade Iraq without stoking the anger of the American people with constant referrals to 9/11? Would the Nazi's have successfully carried out the partial extermination of the Jewish people without a systematic arousal of flawed antisemitism in the ordinary German? Ethnic 'cleansing' in the former Yugoslavia; the Rwandan Genocide; the cycle of violence in Northern Ireland, all examples of events perpetuated by the fanning of people's anger. To use anger as a political tool is one of the most grotesque and dangerous methods of exercising power. It gives precedence to passion in a world that desperately needs reason.
Thankfully, I never developed the habit of using my short fuse as an instrument of my will. Instead, I've developed a healthy sense of loathing for such behaviour. Now, it's hard not to look on people who get angry easily as somewhat pathetic. Even worse is the cultural glamourisation of anger as something quintessentially masculine and powerful. T-shirts carrying slogans like ' You Don't Want To Piss Me Off!' or 'Don't Fuck With Me!' capture this idiocy fairly well. And remember not to test the patience of those merry folks who 'just don't give a fuck'. We wouldn't want to draw them away from their important work. Or how about the Limp Bizkit song Break Stuff ? A song that warns those who test our patience that we have a chainsaw with which we will 'skin' their 'ass raw'. This macho rubbish becomes all the more laughable when one considers that all this anger is actually an inner child crying out for the love and compassion it never had.
How many times have you felt yourself on thin ice around people with the propensity to get angry? Whether it be parents; teachers; colleagues; friends or family, there is a familiar mode of appeasement we adopt when in the company of these individuals. Though they may not be bad people, their inclination to snap gives them an uncomfortable aura. We seem to grant them a certain privilege. We may be less willing to question or challenge them. Basically, we afford these people too much respect. Like spoiled children, people with anger issues can learn to use the threat of their anger to exercise their will over those who do not want to be on the recieveing end. In effect, they are rewarded for their over-zealous attempt to control because of the fear that they instill in others. In a political comparison, this is the same as submitting to the will of the mindless populism described earlier. If we allow our political and individual lives to be ruled by the fear, arousal and championing of anger, we are a miserable bunch indeed.