Hatred Hurts Itself

In general, in most of our lives, we probably do not get yelled at by other people too often. We also probably don’t do that much yelling at other people either. I don’t have kids, so usually if there is something that I really want to yell about it happens when I am sitting alone in my car driving. When I do get so agitated while driving that I want to yell about some other driver bothering me, I try to consider whether the other driver even knows if I exist, whether they are aware that they are frustrating me, and whether they will ever remember that they slightly inconvenienced my drive enough to make me angry.

 

These thoughts about anger and yelling at people came back to mind while reading over a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. When Isengard fell and Saruman locked himself in his tower, Galdalf spoke to Pipen and said, “Strange are the turns of fortune! Often does hatred hurt itself!”

 

Being outraged often doesn’t lead to things we want. When we fly into a fit of rage, we usually don’t get people to do things that make us happy and fix the underlying thing that made us angry. When we hate people uncontrollably, we usually make things in our own lives just as bad as we make things in other people’s lives.

 

What anger and hatred do is reveal a weakness in ourselves. If I were to yell at someone while driving or try to insult someone, I would not be harming them, but really harming myself. I would be revealing that I am not a calm and collected person, but instead a hateful and angry jerk who has little self control and little ability to think of others. Hatred is meant to be outward and in some senses is intended to tear down another person, but instead it reveals a weakness in character that pulls us down and in our rage causes us to make poor decisions that harm ourselves more than others. Gandalf was spot on with his observations of an angry and bitter Saruman.

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For more on outrage, check out an old post of mine about feeling superior by being outraged.

Self Degrading

I’m writing this in the afternoon which is rare for me, but I have an extra twenty minutes and thought I would draft up another post. I’m still writing about Ryan Holiday’s book The Ego is the Enemy, and the quote that I am at is quite fitting for my day. This afternoon, as I was leaving work, I turned right onto a street as a car was approaching. In my recollection, the car was a ways back and I had plenty of space, but the driver was going a little faster than the speed limit. I didn’t pay any attention to them until I reached a red light a block away. The person had a scowl on their face and was clearly yelling at me from their vehicle. I made an apologetic face and gesture, but I’m not sure it really helped. At the time I thought about how much power she was giving me over herself to allow her emotions to be so wrought by an action that I undertook without her in mind. It made no difference to me and my life that she had chosen to be so upset, and it was a great act of self-divulgence for her to allow some random person to have such control over her emotional state.
The quote I have from Holiday’s book that fits my afternoon well is, “Those who have subdued their ego understand that it doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them.” I don’t want to write about my afternoon and only critique this woman, after all I don’t know what else happened in her day that may have put her on edge and I don’t know if she was in a hurry to get to a seriously ill or injured loved one and didn’t want any slow drivers pulling out in front of her.
But this quote pulls me back to the reaction I had thanks to the fact that lessons from Holiday, Colin Wright, and Marcus Aurelius have resonated with me so strongly. I did not feel insulted when the lady in the other car was visibly upset and yelling at me. I felt that I could say, “I apologize, I did not intend to cut you off or drive slow in front of you and I recognize that I am not a Nascar champion and sometimes my driving is not the best of all time.” What ultimately happened in the situation this afternoon was that I was able to remain calm and collected to see a situation objectively while another person acted in a way that we would not want to see in our children.
Holiday’s message is that attacking another person, belittling them, and attempting to make them smaller or in some way inferior only reveals our own shortcomings. We never know what another person sees, experiences, and perceives, and as a result we can never truly understand them or the forces acting on them. We must give people the benefit of the doubt while standing by our principles. When we allow our ego to take control of the situation, to yell, scream, and fight for our honor, what we really do is show how insecure we are, how little we think about the world and our relation to other people in the world, and how self-centered we truly are. Recognizing our ego and our desire to lash out at the world helps us to have more civil relationships with those who would seek to do us harm or injure us, and in many situations, a more controlled and meter reaction can help the world move forward with less stress, less vitriol, and more positivity.

About Being Mad

Marcus Aurelius in his philosophy of stoicism constantly made an effort to look beyond the surface and make deep considerations of people and events before he made any attempt to sort out what they meant. This practice allowed him to delay pressing judgement onto others and gave him the ability to think clearly about something before letting his opinion bias his thoughts.  Throughout his book Meditations, you see him apply this skill to many areas of life, giving us examples of how we can use deeper thought and the ability to control our impulsiveness in various relationships and situations. In the quote I wish to highlight today, Aurelius discusses our anger in situations where disputes may arise. He writes, “The dispute then, he said, is not about any common matter; but about being mad or not.”

 

This quote to me speaks about our often hidden decision in conversation and social situations to react to something by being offended and angry.

 

At a certain point in a discussion or debate we may recognize that our views conflict with those of another, and we have a choice of how to move forward. In our culture in the United States we do not do a good job of understanding how to meaningfully build conversation from differences of opinion, and we often default to the simple option, argumentative debate. When we begin to notice that our views do not match, something inside us triggers and we allow ourselves to become mad. We fail to be constructive in our discussion and allow our hot mind to push the conversation in a volatile direction. In terms of our discussion, we make the decision to become angry, and that decision derails the path of our conversation. At a certain point when this happens, we are no longer actually discussing the original point, but instead we have staked out our identify, fortified ourselves with rage, and shifted the discussion to something completely different: our moral superiority and right to be angry.

 

This reminds me of a quote from Aurelius that I previously wrote about on August 3rd, 2016:

 

“On a personal level, outrage makes us feel superior. By becoming indignant, we’re drawing a line in the sand and declaring ourselves to be on the right side of a given issue. We’re saying, ‘How horrible this situation is, and how capable am I of declaring right and wrong, and passing judgment on those involved!’”

 

We do not become angry with others or with situations because of the effect or impact they have on us, but rather, we become angry by our own choice. We use anger as a defense mechanism that barricades us on the side of righteousness and pierces through the shortcomings of others. Making the decision not to become angry at others allows us to look at people as rational human beings (meaning that they are making decisions based on their own perceived utility), and also allows us to remain humble as we constructively build our relationships and as we cognitively piece together the reality around us. Without developing this ability, we simply entrench our tribal nature, but in a way that is hidden from our consciousness, preventing ourselves from growing and being able to view the world from perspectives beyond our own.

 

As Colin Write wrote to start his book Considerations,

“Few of us take the time to consider.
     It’s not that we’re ‘inconsiderate’ in the sense that we’re rude or brash or one of the other myriad associations we’ve tacked on to the word over the years, but we are often ‘inconsiderate’ in the sense that we act while seeing the world from only one standpoint: our own.”

Anger

A pillar of stoicism is the ability to control ones emotions, especially when it comes to negative emotions and states in which we are more likely to harm others. Throughout his book Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, the 2nd century Roman Emperor, reflects on the ideas of anger, contempt, and our thoughts toward other people.  He explains the benefits of calm and collected thought when we are frustrated and feel as though we have been wronged.  Through self-reflection he reminds us of the importance of considering our own actions as if we were in another person’s shoes, and with self-awareness he urges us to think about our actions and how we would like ourselves to behave.

 

Aurelius writes, “Consider how much more pain is brought on us by the anger and vexation caused by such acts than by the acts themselves, at which we are angry and vexed.” When looking at this quote it is easy to think about the importance of not becoming angry, but I think it is more important actually visualize the situation described by aurelius. We can think about how we could have handled situations differently, and we can imagine ways in which we could have been more responsible for ourselves or for others. Keeping this quote in mind and thinking about our conflicts and how we could have mitigated them by controlling our emotions and reactions can help prepare us for future conflicts.

 

Rather than becoming outraged that something negative happened to us, even if that something was an intentional act by another person, we can move forward looking for solutions or ways in which we can use the experience to better ourselves. Aurelius constantly argues for living a life in the present moment, which means recognizing that actions that took place even a second before the present moment no longer impact our current state, particularly in regards to our current actions or decisions.  Stepping back, looking at something that happened, and then deciding that it was not the end of the world will help us make the best decisions as we move forward. If we allow those thoughts, feelings, and emotions to remain, then we give away our self control and let an experience of the past dictate the decisions and actions of our present and future lives.

How Being Outraged Can Boost Our Self-esteem

Throughout his book Considerations, author Colin Wright reflects ideas that align with stoicism, turning Considerations into a collection of essays on varying topics to slightly mirror Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.  A common theme between the two works is the focus on ideas of self awareness, self-control, and accepting that you do not understand everyone’s perspectives and thoughts.  Commenting on ideas of self-awareness and self-control, Wright introduces an interesting idea about the way we think during times of passionate anger,

 

“On a personal level, outrage makes us feel superior.  By becoming indignant, we’re drawing a line in the sand and declaring ourselves to be on the right side of a given issue.  We’re saying, “How horrible this situation is, and how capable I am of declaring right and wrong, and passing judgment on those involved!””

 

Wright continues to explain that this type of outrage is nothing more than a self-esteem boost for ourselves because it raises us along a slope of moral righteousness from which we are able to display and pronounce our superiority over those in the “wrong” camp. Our ranting and explosive attitudes release energy and captivate the attention of others, giving us an additional boost by holding people’s attention.  As this continues, being right or wrong does not matter, and we simply become outraged on moral issues so that we can continue to hold people’s attention and flatter ourselves. The more people pay attention to an outraged individual, whether they agree with them or just want to see someone exploding their beliefs, the more that individual feels supported. We reinforce our ideas and beliefs and risk polarizing ourselves through our thought process by creating an identity for ourselves that is holy and pure, while demonizing those with whom we disagree and view as being wrong.

 

I think that both Aurelius and Wright would argue that it is better to turn inside ourselves and reflect on that which drives us irate before making a public display of our feelings. By better understanding whatever it is, we can better react to it, and perhaps understand other perspectives surrounding that which angered us. Aurelius would certainly argue that nothing should push an individual to the point of outrage, since it is likely outside our control and influence, and since the thing itself likely does not make us any worse off, but rather our reactions to that thing makes us angry. Both authors would also argue that it is important to be able to understand why others think or behave in a way to us that seems completely backward and wrong.  When we can focus and explore the behaviors and thoughts of others from their perspective we are able to grow as individuals and better connect with them.  By connecting and sharing perspectives we are able to grow as individuals and as groups as opposed to creating divides within society that entrench us behind a personal moral facade of correctness.

How Being Outraged Can Boost Our Self Esteem

Throughout his book Considerations, author Colin Wright reflects on ideas that seem to align with stoicism and his book, which is a collection of essays on various daily topics, connects with many themes from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.  A common idea between the two works is the thought of self awareness, self-control, and understanding that you do not understand everyone’s perspectives and thoughts.  When writing about our anger and the way we occasionally show our passion through outrage Wright states:

 

“On a personal level, outrage makes us feel superior.  By becoming indignant, we’re drawing a line in the sand and declaring ourselves to be on the right side of a given issue.  We’re saying, “How horrible this situation is, and how capable I am of declaring right and wrong, and passing judgment on those involved!””

 

Wright continues to explain that this type of outrage is nothing more than a self esteem boost for ourselves because it raises us along a slope of moral righteousness from which we are able to display and pronounce our superiority over those in the ‘wrong’ camp. Our ranting and explosive attitudes release energy and captivate the attention of others, giving us an additional boost by holding people’s attention.  As this continues, being right or wrong does not matter, and we simply become outraged on moral issues so that we can continue to gain an audience and flatter ourselves. The more people pay attention to an outraged individual, whether they agree with them or just want to see someone bellowing out their beliefs, the more that individual feels supported.

 

I think that both Aurelius and Wright would argue that it is better to turn ourselves inside and reflect on that which makes us irate before making a public display of our feelings. By better understanding whatever it is, we can better react to it, and perhaps understand other perspectives surrounding that which angered us. Aurelius would certainly argue that nothing should push an individual to the point of outrage, since it is likely outside our control and influence, and since the thing itself likely does not make us any worse off. Both Wright and Aurelius would understand that the best way to handle or change that which has angered us would be to use our anger in a moderate manner by taking positive steps to improve the world around us by changing that which we can control.  Anger is a normal human emotion and one that can motivate us and push us to action in many positive ways, but using anger to increase ones platform does not help us grow or improve society. When we use anger to place ourselves on the moral high ground, we divide our society and polarize the thoughts at hand.