It’s OK to Get Mad, Just Don’t Be Angry

We’ve talked about how Stoics respond to the terrifying and alarming events of life. Yes, they might get scared—that’s what happens when you’re surprised or thrown back by a blow from fate. But what a Stoic doesn’t do is become afraid. 

No, they gather themselves up and keep going. They push the fear away and do their duty.

This distinction between being scared and afraid is important and can be applied elsewhere, especially right now. How does a Stoic feel about this global pandemic in which innocent people have been utterly failed by their governments? Leaders who denied that the threat was real and failed to prepare. Whose negligence and incompetence were downright criminal. This should make a Stoic mad. But what a Stoic must do is prevent themselves from getting angry.

Because as Seneca wrote repeatedly, the effects of anger are almost always worse than the harm from the violation. As Athenodorus advised, we have to count the letters of the alphabet and gather ourselves before we do or say something we regret. We have to focus our energy productively—on keeping ourselves and our families safe, on keeping our businesses going, on looking for the opportunities that come from market downturns, and, of course, for coming up with a plan to throw these bums out of office when the time comes. 

Being mad is a reaction. Anger is a state of mind. One is outside our control. The other is something we choose—a weakness we give into and accept. 

This moment, just like a scary moment, requires all our resources. We cannot afford to give into anger, just as we cannot afford to give into fear. No, we need to be alert. Aware. Rational. In control of ourselves. So we can survive. So we can learn. So we can enjoy happiness in the present moment. So we can make sure this never happens again.

P.S. This was originally sent on September 25, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.