It's been an interesting exploration into the Seven Deadly Sins in recent weeks. The poet Dante has had a lot to teach me about controlling my own worst impulses. Perhaps you have also found something valuable in these discussions so far of lust, gluttony, greed, and sloth.
This week's sin is wrath--the uncontrolled anger that gets the best of you and causes you to take action you will soon regret. This may be the sin that defines this historical moment. Many pundits and commentators argue that rage fueled multiple election outcomes, including the Brexit vote and the U.S. presidential election. A 2016 joint poll by NBC, SurveyMonkey, and Esquire magazine shows that Americans are feeling angrier than ever when they consider the news, politics, and their own social situation. Sharing on social media seems to make it worse. 55% of people who reported expressing anger online actually report feeling more wrathful after, rather than less. Many recent incidents of violence in the international news were reportedly motivated by personal fury over political and social problems.
It sounds like the whole world needs court-mandated anger management classes. Unfortunately, very few have the power to change the behavior of a whole society. However, you and I each have the ability to control personal emotions. If you don't slow down when you start to see red, you can do significant damage in your own life. Here are seven situations where you should be on guard and exercise self-control:
1. Tweeting while fuming.
Could there be a better example for posting in haste than the current president? Of course, the many flaming replies that dominate the feeds should make clear that he's not the only guilty party. It feels good, for a moment, to post a witty and insulting reply to someone whose opinions offend you. In the end however, it just increases stress and bad feeling for everyone who reads it. Your hasty Facebook reply might damage your friends' relationships or reputation by association...which won't nurture good feelings for you.
2. E-mailing in haste.
Is there anyone who hasn't felt a momentary surge of anger after reading a demanding, rude, or thoughtless message from a coworker or friend? It can be very tempting to whack out an immediate reply on your poor, innocent keyboard and hit "send" like it was a "launch" button for a long-distance missile. There is a reason all the experts agree that you should wait at least an hour before replying, however. Chances are, your immediate feelings will fade, and you will deal with the situation more positively when your reason returns. You will also waste less time brooding and revising to find just the right words of righteous indignation.
3. Returning the insult.
When someone cuts you off in traffic, pushes past you in line, or mutters an expletive, it's a natural impulse to give as good as you get. Why stand for that disrespect? Because that's how otherwise ordinary people end up in jail or the emergency room. Research shows you will be healthier and happier if you just let go and forgive the insult. Let them give themselves an ulcer instead of you.
4. Feeding the fire.
You probably aren't the only one who notices when a colleague or friend behaves badly. There's a feeling of relief and vindication in venting that steam with others who also feel they've been wronged. Instead of restoring your goodwill, however, this usually increases everyone's negative feelings toward that person. Know when its time to draw the line, lest your momentary grumble grow into full on gossip or backbiting.
5. Nursing a grudge.
Anyone can get angry. Staying angry over the long term takes effort and mental energy that would be better spent on your own ambitions and progress. It is hard to be friendly, polite, and helpful while you are constantly, quietly seething on the inside. Others won't know why you are rude or dismissive; they will only know you've treated them with disrespect.
6. Planning a takedown.
For Dante, vengeance was a "love of justice perverted to revenge and spite." There's nothing wrong with wanting to see a villain finally reap the consequences of selfishness and bad behavior. Justice should be done whenever possible, just not by you. Let the boss, or another authority, decide how and when to act. If they don't, focus on being fair and compassionate in your own behavior to counterbalance that jerk's influence.
7. Kicking yourself.
This may be the sneakiest, most destructive kind of anger. Many are much more willing to forgive others than themselves. Instead when they let themselves down, they fret and wallow in frustration. Spend too much time dwelling on your past mistakes, and you won't have the freedom or the confidence to keep trying. Self-anger leads to eventual self-hatred, which often leads to substance abuse and other destructive habits.