Anger causes error

There are times when it is appropriate to feel anger, in a reasonable degree of intensity.

But anger doesn’t help us think more clearly, or leave our thinking unaffected. It warps our ability to think well.

Aristotle compares the person in a rage to the person who is drunk, and says that both kinds of person are partly excusable for their bad actions, because they aren’t fully in control of themselves, but not entirely excusable.

Does that ever resonate. When I think back on things I’ve said and the ways I’ve acted when in the grip of anger, it definitely feels, in hindsight, like I was as much under the power of a foreign influence as when I’ve been drunk. Much of your brain seems to power down, your body feels different (especially the head and neck and chest, I think), your vision constricts, you stop hearing things outside the object of your anger.

And just like when you are drunk or dreaming, this altered state and these restricted capacities are not easily recognized in the moment, but only afterward, thinking back with a cooler head.

In the moment, we have no doubt that we are quite rational, clearheaded, fully righteous; if we weren’t all those things, after all, how could we be so sure that our anger is entirely justified?

Not everyone is so susceptible to the suggestions of rage as to need anger management classes of the sort that I believe courts sometimes prescribe. But all except the most virtuous of us are more or less close to being that far gone. All of us need to work at controlling our anger better when it does arise so that we can think we’ll and act justly, and at being able to hear people when they tell us we are being too angry or emotional. It is much easier (at least for most of us) to choose not to get drunk, than to choose not to grow angry when provoked. I’ve been lucky to have been born with a milder disposition overall than many of the people I’ve known, but I am well aware that this exhortation applies to me just as much as anyone else.

It is a vitally important task, and not an easy one. The sooner we get working on it, the more progress we will be able to make, and the more regrettable words and deeds we will be able to avoid going forward.

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