Monday, January 15, 2007

Anger American Style

The author Peter Wood has a new book out which is just now getting a lot of attention. Wood was featured on CNN Saturday morning in a round table discussion of his book, "A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now."

Wood makes some great points. He says that, culturally, things have changed considerably and as of late, drastically. He says that now we have old anger and new anger. As Wood puts it, old anger is when you count to ten seconds. You consider your reaction and your response and perhaps take the opportunity to respond calmly or step away. According to Wood, new anger is where you don't wait ten seconds, and you may even become angry preemptively, to get the upper hand. Woods says people used to see anger as a weakness, so much so that they used to be ashamed of their anger and thus kept some, most or all of it to themselves not only in 'polite company' but in all sorts of situations. Wood says that as a culture, we are notably giving up on patience and restraint.

Now days, Americans are angry as a sign of warding off fellow predators. The most popular music, athletes and advertisements of the 21st century are either outright angry or tinged with anger around the edges. In America now, aggression is a fashion statement.

In some studies, Americans now boast of their anger and their rapid response times. Certainly, the rise in road rage and rude behavior of all sorts are actually not only on the rise but on the rise in relation to the population. In other words, any of us is more likely to express or act on anger than even during the 1960s, when the nation seemed to be engulfed in anti-war and anti-establishment protests.

We've taken most of the external and social forums of anger and turned them into personal hostility toward whatever and whomever.

Wood uses the escalations of political offensive and sports team tirades as pervasive and highly visible symbols of what the rest of the nation is doing. Attack ads set the tone for the embattled feelings of many in traffic, waiting in line, trying to get customer service, dealing with conflicts both neighborly and internationally.

I haven't read the book yet, but I would offer a few therapeutic notions to the debate:

There is a difference between justified anger and unjustified anger. And no matter what that guy you cut off thinks, there is almost never such a thing as justified anger.

Also: According to the latest neuro-psychological studies of how people function, we are not in control of our emotions. We are pretty much wired to FEEL certain ways in near instant reactions to situations. BUT, we are responsible for how we react to and act upon our own emotions. We are responsible whether we blow it or not. Whether our reactions are gruesome or graceful, it's up to us.

So why not side with a civilized and civil and admirable response to the darker of our emotions? With attention and training, we CAN control how we react, how we act. Our best behavior depends not on never feeling angry but on not exacerbating and escalating that anger. It is better to acknowledge the anger of others in a rather neutral and opening compassionate way... and then to step away.


At 1/25/2007 8:07 AM, Blogger Cborges said...

I'm interested in knowing who suffers from road rage more ... men or women???

At 1/25/2007 8:28 AM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Good question, cborges, and thanks for making a comment here at ABN. I wonder, do you mean suffers as the perp or the vic? Meaning the person causing road rage or being the target/victim of road rage? I suspect men, of course, as they are built for outward aggression. But I have seen a few women commit outrageous acts of road rage myself, so no gender is immune, and my examples are, of course, only anecdotal.


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