It’s not that we didn’t have a reason. That we weren’t provoked. Or mistreated. We were. We had legitimate reasons to be upset. We had a legitimate grievance.
And yet…our response was such a mistake. We come to regret the yelling. We regret the harsh words. How much better would we have been had we been able to, as the great play about Cato put it, look at things through the “calm light of mild philosophy.”
To the Stoics, what we did in a fit of passion–be it of lust or envy but most of all out of anger–was almost always the wrong thing. It didn’t matter if the other person was wrong, if we were relentlessly baited or abused, it didn’t matter if we escaped consequences, it was a mistake to be overcome by our passions. Marcus Aurelius would have been cautioned by one of the most terrible moments of his mentor Hadrian’s reign, when aggravated by the incompetence of a secretary, the emperor stabbed the man in the eye with a stylus. Seneca wrote a whole essay on the perils of anger–the most blinding and self-destructive of the passions.
When we are angry, we do stupid things. We do impulsive things that we come to regret. We burn bridges. We stoop to ‘their’ level. We break trusts. We delegitimize whatever legitimacy our grievance may have had. We must beware this madness, we must command ourselves.
It’s OK to be angry…just look at the situation in a calm and mild light before you do anything.