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We live in a culture that likes idealism. We notice so much wrong with others, ourselves, the way things are. Little things such as the sound of a car horn or a lost set of keys remind us that idealism is impossible.
Often, anger makes a lot of sense. Certain types of anger can be very useful as a source of insight when we've been wronged, when things are going poorly, when we want change. However, anger can also be a source of foolishness, miscalculation, regret, resentment, and detachment.
We can be wronged in unjust ways, such as being targeted, and in these cases, anger can be used to motivate us to stand up and defend ourselves.
But, more often we are wronged in a way where anger will not help to correct or solve it. When we try to resist and reject any sort of softer acceptance and sadness in response to this, we can become hardened with a sort of brute and frequent anger and become numb and unfeeling.
Psychologist Magda Arnold developed the appraisal theory. It states that our emotional responses are mostly created by our conscious evaluations of events - how we view, interpret, and label stimuli.
For example, if we believe cats are sweet and harmless, holding a particular cat will be a favourable emotional experience. But someone who believes cats threatening or devious, will likely have a negative experience. The responses are very different to the same stimulus.
When we are angered frequently or remain angered for long periods, there is an opportunity to switch our mental filter in favour of better, more productive experiences.
For the stoics, events in the world are objective and neutral. Our emotional experiences are the product of the stories we tell ourselves. It can't hurt you unless you interpret what's happening as harmful. If we realise that the world has not singled us out, most people are trying their best, that ignorance is more often the reason than malice, we can realise that the situation is not worthy of being angry about.
Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in ... life, you will be totally hosed.
We should not live an agreeable life in which our anger is always denied of its expression. But when anger comes from a place that isn't angry about the thing we seem to be angry about, the anger is a liability, not an asset.
We should not think that we have personally been made victim by the world. When we are angry, all of this sounds nonsensical or impossible, but it is then that these ideas matter so much.
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