May 12, 2023

Meditations on Anger from Marcus Aurelius.

“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.” ~ Marcus Aurelius


If it were possible to never deal with anger, I think most people would eliminate it from their lives.

Since I haven’t met anyone to this day who’s been successful in that, it seems prudent to focus on how to best deal with anger when it inevitably arises.

Avoiding the causes of anger is not a long-term solution; even if we removed ourselves from the civilized world, we’d still find things that make us mad. I’ve found even if we’re able to limit the instigators in our lives, our tolerance for anger simply diminishes, and we then find even smaller things to get angry about.

It’s not really important what the causes of anger are, since they are of only relative importance. There’s a sliding scale for all of us, and some people are fairly easy-going and don’t anger quickly, while others will blow up after the slightest offense.

Additionally, each of us has our own relative anger scale, and it can vary based on the day or even minute. If we’re having a good day, perhaps we’re more willing to let something slide. On a bad day, a minor offense might be the thing that pushes us over the edge.

Considering the offenses that irritate us are so varying, doesn’t it make logical sense to go straight to the effects, rather than the cause to treat what anger does?

We cannot control what happens to us, or at the very least, we might be able to influence it, but there’s no way to 100 percent determine our lives. This means there will always be circumstances in life that may instigate anger.

Considering we cannot prevent acts that may piss us off, the other option is to see what influence we have on the aftereffects. This is after an event has started us down the road to anger, and no one else is any longer involved except us and the story we are continuing to tell ourselves.

This is where we have a stronger measure of influence to change what is happening to us. We can either choose to continue ruminating about the grievous act committed against us, or we can let it go.

If someone enjoys holding onto this anger, there’s no point in trying to get rid of it. For the rest of us who’d rather not be angry, we have a seemingly simple choice: Continue to remain miserable or find an alternative.

How do we let go of anger if we feel that we’ve been wronged, though? If the simple solution of realizing that we’re only causing ourselves additional suffering by continuing to hold on doesn’t release us from the binds, we can also look at the act or actor in the first place.

Usually, it is some other person that causes us to begin to become angry, but let’s consider first the times when it is some non-sentient being.

An example from my own life is when my robot vacuum got stuck in the hallway closet because it ended up shutting the door on itself and it wasn’t able to get out. This sounds silly even writing this, but I got mad at the vacuum because it didn’t finish cleaning, and it was actually quite difficult to open the closet door because it had shifted some things around in there barricading the door.

Regardless of the circumstances, I knew it was ridiculous to get pissed at a robot—although that didn’t stop me at first.

I realize it’s pointless to shout at a robot, but I didn’t feel bad since the vacuum doesn’t have feelings (at least until the machines become self-aware and then try to take over the world…).

I recognize this is a “first-world problem” to have my robot vacuum stuck in a closet, since most people have to do their cleaning for themselves and don’t have a robot to do it for them. And while this robot could be said to have a mind of its own, it certainly isn’t trying to deliberately piss me off.

The act in this case was relatively minor: The vacuuming didn’t get completed because the robot shut itself in the closet. By itself, this could easily be seen as humorous, rather than something to get mad over. But the consequences of me getting angry over this silly event did cause me some suffering since I wasn’t able to let it go immediately and have a laugh.

This has happened to me once or twice since then, and it’s been easier for me to not take it so seriously and just reset the vacuum without the need to tell it what I think (since it doesn’t listen to me anyway).

It’s not always that easy when other people are involved, though. What happens when we have a conscious being to pass the blame of our anger onto?

Let’s consider for a moment if my vacuum had been a person who, for whatever reason, wanted to barricade themselves in my hallway closet. Perhaps they really liked my coats and wanted to spend some time with them, I don’t know…

Now, I could say about this person, “They are doing this on purpose to me,” which could justify my anger. And if they wouldn’t come out, I might remain pissed off at them for quite a while, causing myself added suffering.

Since my hallway closet is fairly well stocked with water and food supplies (just in case there is a robot apocalypse or another worldwide pandemic, whichever comes first), this person could theoretically hold out a long time. Such a simple act of blocking me out of my closet would then turn into days of me holding onto anger. How much more grievous would this anger be to have for days than the relatively minor cause of it?

For most of us, we don’t want to remain angry. It can certainly be said I don’t enjoy the feeling of being angry (which is why I strive to forgive and forget the causes quickly, even if it’s stemming from a robot that doesn’t want or need my forgiveness).

The punishment we inflict upon ourselves by remaining angry is far greater than the act against us that causes us to become angry initially.

Whatever the offense might have been to begin our descent into anger, that is over with. What remains after the act is up to us. We can choose to keep punishing ourselves with anger or we can attempt a resolution.

When viewed in this light, it becomes easier for us to see that remaining angry only makes a situation worse, regardless of the initial cause.


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