It was clear that Aaron Burr had some serious beef with the reputational bad mouthing dished out by his nemesis Hamilton, but he must have been in a right state to then think the best course of action was to challenge the man to a duel. Maybe it was a different epoch, a time when therapists had yet to capitalise on relationship issues and where individuals lacked the emotional ability to fully assess the upside – shaking hands and sharing a rueful joke or two, and the downsides – death, of an all-out duel. What is clear, is that the Vice-President was peeved beyond reason. He was angry.
Anger, or wrath if you are a God or CEO, is something of an intense emotional response. What lights the fuse is generally some kind of provocation, threat, or perceived injustice and is usually accompanied by sweat, adrenalin and in certain instances, the baring of teeth. Although the latter is more common in animals and some marital disputes. Anger can also come in the form of a long stare, much favoured by two year-olds negotiating peas for the first time and left-wing activists at the sight of a pair of red cords. Many modern day psychologists though, think a bit of anger is good, lest we all turn out like the Swiss. Feeling a little prickle down the back and letting go of a half-hearted Daniel Cleaver type haymaker can act as a supportive mechanism and help mobilise the right physiological resources for corrective action. A sort of ‘get it all out the system’ type approach. It is uncontrolled anger that causes the trouble. Think Vinny Jones, the French, red heads and any British pub when the barman says it’s time to go home.
Uncontrolled anger can have seriously negative consequences, consequences which are often good for lawyers, but not so good for spouses, children or cats. Now whilst it is generally agreed that throwing crockery at loved ones is not to be encouraged, psychologists find it more difficult to agree on the value of anger. Like many of the basic human emotions, anger has attracted a good lick of interest over the years, and lately the bearded owls who keep the academic journals in print have pointed out the potential dangers associated with suppressing anger. William DeFoore, an anger management guru, described anger as the fabled pressure cooker, the analogy easy to picture for any poorly trained chef, with the point being that it’s best to let some steam out every now and then. Go for a run, hit some balls down the range, talk, dead head the roses, dig out the crossword or head to Wetherspoon’s.
Now attitudes towards anger have changed through the times. The Ancient Greeks, a people of robes, orgies and slavery, took a hostile view to anger, seeing it as a form of madness. The philosopher Seneca, who was later forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity in Emperor Nero’s murder, took a particularly dim view of it. Seneca attributed the Roman army’s regular rub of the Germans, to their discipline and the inclination of the Germans to fly into a fury. How far then, the Germans appear to have come with their financial prudence and role as Europe’s unofficial leader, yet much like the Japanese it is perhaps best not poke them into a corner. Some traits don’t die. Aristotle though, ever the thinker, took a different view and actually reckoned that there was some value attached to anger. He believed that anger that had arisen from perceived injustice was useful as it could then be used to prevent further injustice. It is interesting that the ancient philosophers rarely referred to women’s anger, perhaps explained by the fact that no man in their right mind would ever commit any such observations to paper. Seneca briefly considered women to be more prone to anger than men, but didn’t expand on the topic much. Clever chap. Then, as now – don’t kick the bee-hive.
As with many human states, there is a sort of emotional continuum that ranges from mild annoyance at one end to murderous rage at the other. Rage is a complex state, and is often a result of an individual being unable to process emotions or any number of life’s rich experiences. Rage is a cauldron, a molten mix of trauma, stress and injustice, and which often requires context. It being typically the response to events which an individual is unable to deal with. It is a mechanism for feelings that need to get out; to get out.
One simple way of looking at the dichotomy of anger is on a scale, from passive to aggressive anger. Passive anger, comes through in the form of dispassion, cold shoulders, defeatism, psychological manipulation, and the secretive stockpiling of petty resentments. Aggressive anger is different, but just as nasty. Aggressive anger is, as you’d expect, all about overt bullying, vandalism, pulling the wings of a insects, verbal abuse, tailgating, finger-pointing and serving up cold portions of sickly vengeance.
Dealing with anger then, demands choice. Individuals can take it on the full and dish it straight back, or quietly skulk away and fan the coals of resentment. Therapists argue for discussion, believing it’s best to dig into the cause which may or may not make things any better. It is though generally accepted that for those who are prone to destructive behaviour, who use emotional blackmail, jump queues, gossip, and beat their family could benefit from a lie down on a couch and a quiet talk to someone with a PhD.
Interesting thing, anger.
Clearly sometimes it’s good to let the lion out its cage. Just not too often.