“Keep this thought handy when you feel a fit of rage coming on—it isn’t manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance—unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.” – Marcus Aurelius
Something may happen today that upsets you. Someone might be rude, your car could break down, an employee might mess something up despite your very careful instructions. Your instinct may be to yell and get angry. It’s natural.
But just because it’s “natural” doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Remember Marcus Aurelius’s observation, “how much more harmful are the consequences of anger…than the circumstances that aroused them in us.” Yelling might make you feel better for a second, but does it actually solve the problem? Of course not. Arguing with a rude person only offers them more opportunity to be rude. Getting worked up over car trouble doesn’t fix the car, it just raises your blood pressure. Berating an employee who messed up? Now they’ll either resent you or they’ll be more likely to screw up again in the future because they’re nervous and self-conscious.
As Seneca wrote in his essay on anger, “the best plan is to reject straightway the first incentives to anger, to resist its very beginnings, and to take care not to be betrayed into it: for if once it begins to carry us away, it is hard to get back again into a healthy condition, because reason goes for nothing when once passion has been admitted to the mind, and has by our own free will been given a certain authority, it will for the future do as much as it chooses, not only as much as you will allow it. The enemy, I repeat, must be met and driven back at the outermost frontier-line: for when he has once entered the city and passed its gates, he will not allow his prisoners to set bounds to his victory.”
Your feelings are choices: You choose anger over calm; you choose fear over courage; you choose misery over joy. Which choice is more productive? Which punishes the chooser and which punishes the circumstance? Remember, circumstances do not change as a result of how angry you get at them. Because circumstances are not people.
Stop wasting your time (or breath) getting angry at things that are utterly indifferent to your feelings. Stop thinking that emoting at inanimate objects or situations or entities is going to change anything. It’s like that saying about taking poison and expecting the other person to die.
You’re not helping anything. In fact, anger only make things worse.
Every situation is made better by a cool head. Even powerful people who know that anger is a powerful and effective tool will tell you that there is a big difference between deliberately expressing your frustrations (to make a point, to motivate someone, to defend yourself) and flying off the handle. Without the ability to recognize and direct your emotions, you become a slave to them.
If this is the only thing you take from Stoicism, even if you ignore all the other great teachings, this one is enough to keep challenging you for a lifetime. It’s got enough value in it to change you for a lifetime.
If you’re looking for more ways to manage anger, check out Taming Your Temper: The 10-Day Stoic Guide To Controlling Anger. Each day contains a full curriculum of advice, instructions, quotes from the Stoics, and exercises and challenges to complete. We will approach your anger problem comprehensively, attacking it from all sides in order to manage it and bring it under control. Learn more now