#29: zen and the art of discovering you have way too much anger

It is a disquieting moment, the realisation that one’s anger has reached an uncomfortable level. Mine occurred when I tackled our dog, Dude, a Great Dane who had elected to lose his mind when he saw people and a dog walk by our window. I have lately been frustrated with his continual downward spiral into a dog-aggressive pet, and, when the chance to take out these frustrations happened, I, sadly, was far too brusque with him in my attempt to subdue him. The thing we don’t want to admit about dogs as our pets is that they are a reflection of how we have trained them; yes, they have personalities, and yes, they will see what they can get away with, but, in the end, Dude losing his mind at other dogs is because I’ve failed him in some way, and that failure is a bitch to admit to.

I have long clung to the notion that I am a chill dude, a misplaced beach bum or something along those lines. I’ve worked at developing such a personality, honing it over the past 15+ years, and placing far too much emphasis on the belief that acting like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo is a worthwhile endeavour. The idea, I think, was that limited reactions to the stimuli around me meant I was in control, but I didn’t want to be a control freak, so the best of both worlds equals surfer stoner or something. Clearly, the entire premise of this paragraph is to set-up the following sentence: it’s pretty much all a farce. The problem, if one sees it as such–and clearly I do–is that the enduring belief in chillness coincides with a major problem of mine: an inability to emotionally relate to pretty much any emotional moment. Algebraically, the equation would go something like this: Inability to React to Human Emotions + Anger is a Bad Emotion = Don’t Express Anything.

G. likes to joke that I’m a sociopath, including sending me online quizzes testing my psychopathy. These are all in good fun, but are also because we have had fights created because I completely failed to understand the emotional gravitas of a situation, and, therefore, have basically railroaded right over her emotional upheaval. It’s embarrassing because objectively I’m aware of how a person is supposed to react, but I have no idea how to actually do it. To each other, we call it my emotional retardation. To the outside world, they’d probably call it ‘being an asshole.’

It’s weird to hear people say anger is a ‘human’ trait, because it’s almost exclusively a masculine description. Angry women are never just angry–they’re ‘crazy.’ Anger exists as an expression of one’s manliness. Of course we question when anger becomes overblown, too violent or out-of-control, but that is often seen less as a negative and more of a man who has been ‘driven too far,’ once again finding a way to create blame on someone or something other than the man expressing the destructive anger. We find ways to celebrate ‘controlled’ anger–just look at the glorification of football players. And then we act shocked when they do something like punch the shit out of their girlfriend in an elevator. It was shocking in the terms of an unbelievable thing to witness, but not actually shocking. These are men who have been taught, over and over, to use their anger as a motivating tool, to harness it in an effort to prove themselves better than the rest on the field; in what way is it surprising that a response to a non-football situation would be one of typical football violence? I don’t even react when I watch football players swing at each other (aside from wondering how daft you have to be to swing at a dude wearing a helmet); this is the sport where Albert Haynesworth stepped on a dude’s face because, well, he was pissed, I guess. But, if you can’t handle it, it’s not because anger is bad, it’s because you are not a Man.

When the NFL suspended Ray Rice for only two games after knocking out his girlfriend [now wife], plenty of idiots defended the decision. Stephen A. Smith, ESPN blowhard, managed to suggest that women shouldn’t provoke attacks in order to prevent such situations from occurring, a typical male response that fits right with the ‘don’t do things that might make a guy want to rape you’ mentality. In the simplest terms, a man is incapable of controlling himself, which actually means that a man can never have out-of-control anger because he is apparently incapable of controlling himself in general. And, yet, a man also expresses no emotions, but we don’t actually mean that; what we mean is, a man doesn’t express feminine emotions–does not showcase fear or vulnerability or neediness. Except, of course, a man has needs and therefore there is inherent neediness, but those needs are ‘rights,’ and therefore, it’s not the same. The absurdity of all this, despite the benefits afforded me by my race and sex, makes it difficult to navigate the terrain of daily manhood.

What we actually want is to confine anger/manhood/emotions to specific regions. The Angry ‘Murrican is not the Angry Black Male. The Angry Teenager is not The Angry Adult. The Angry Woman is not the Angry Man. We create definitions that work for us because that way our emotional reactions can be defended. It’s wildly unfair, hypocritical, and makes life far more difficult than it has any need to be. Douchebag extraordinaire Sean Hannity spent quite a while defending the hell out of Angry ‘Murrican Cliven Bundy who threatened federal agents with violence and guns over land rights; then Hannity defended the cops after they shot a teenager in Ferguson, MO, while also saying the protestors were out of control. Angry white guy with guns desiring violence against the government = okay. Angry non-white people desiring an explanation for, and change in, violence against their community = threat. The way we justify anger often highlights how we actually see the world. And, clearly, Sean Hannity is a racist dickbag.

The problem with anger, especially in light of finding ways to justify it, is its cathartic nature; in underdog movies when the bullied person explodes in a fit of rage and ends his torment, it’s a celebratory moment. When G. and I fight, I waver between feeling ashamed of my anger and feeling righteous in it. When I yell at Dude or video games or Michigan football, I can’t help but feel like I’m ridiculous and that I’m powerful. But things that are important where being angry might actually be justified in some fashion? That’s when I bail. It’s a bullying mentality–yell at only those things which I am confident cannot come back at me, and it’s fucking pathetic. Dude needs trained, not yelled at. Video games can’t hear me, and Brady Hoke isn’t going to hire me to run a better offence [even though he should]. G. doesn’t need me stomping around a room showing her my frustration with whatever fight we’re having; she needs me to communicate. And all of that seems simple to follow through on, up until the point where it happens again.

While this is a rather weak defense, it is the only one I have: a lot of this derives from my inability to emotionally connect with people. Anger, even unjustified anger, is an ‘acceptable’ emotion for me to express. It’s also a very easy one. Combined with a constant cynical view of life and a total dependence on sarcasm for dealing with emotional moments, it creates a personality that is aloof at best, caustic at worst. I’m not and probably never will be a chill dude. The problem is, the general consensus of leading a happy life is to ’embrace who you are.’ But if who you are is a difficult person, should you really embrace that? I’m a lazy perfectionist, a guy who wants chores done a specific way, but who also doesn’t want to do chores, wants them to, like, magically be accomplished. It’s unfair to and difficult, especially to G. I want to be a chill dude because it seems like that makes life easier, but I’m not. I’m a guy who has difficulty with hugs with anyone other than G. and my mother. I’m a guy who just called a Fox News pundit a racist dickbag. I’m a guy who goes on weekly rants to G. about the unfairness of corporate political influence, but I’ve never actually voted. Maybe the easiest way to not be angry is to admit to the things that make you angry and then work on fixing them. But, seriously, fuck Sean Hannity.

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