When we lived in Ecuador, road rage wasn’t a term in common use. However, we frequently saw angry people do dangerous things because of perceived or real incidents on the road. One afternoon, late in the day, a close friend and her family were waiting to cross a very busy four-lane road. A car pulled out from behind a taxi and zipped in front of the taxi to stop at the red light – not unusual. The taxi driver leapt out of the car, shouting expletives at the driver who had dared to cut in front of him. It was horrifying for her to see him waving a gun around – this was not usual - and to imagine them all being shot dead because someone didn’t like losing prime position for taking off from the lights!
The object of the taxista’s rage at first pretended he didn’t see the taxi driver, and then suddenly he leapt from his car and attempted to knock the gun from the taxi driver’s hand. It was a blur after that; a shot fired, people screamed, car horns honked, and there was a man lying on the ground. The taxi driver jumped into the man’s car and drove off. I don’t know if he was ever apprehended. The man who was shot did survive, perhaps because there was a hospital not far from where the incident occurred. I wonder if he ever dared drive a car again.
So this is how wars start, I think, as I remember that incident, while at the same time reflecting on the havoc anger has wreaked in my own life at times. There would be very few who can honestly say they never get angry.
Every day I am reminded of the destruction anger causes. I only have to watch the news or read a paper. And if you choose to watch television you will find that many of the popular shows are about angry, vengeful people - one of the reasons I don't watch it!. A few years ago I was supporting my daughter in a custody case and took time to watch, and listen to, the people milling around waiting for their hour in the courtroom. Dark, threatening looks flashed back and forth across the waiting area while savagely destructive words were muttered and hissed in intense conversations amongst supporters of the person perceived to be the wronged in the relationship. There were hundreds of angry people in that one building and that was only one of hundreds of buildings where the same scene was being acted out across Australia. Anger and rage is toxic and we need to “guard our hearts”, bearing in mind that all the world’s hatred, rage and violence can be traced back to a single source: us.
Most of us realise, but need to be reminded again and again that our anger is our responsibility. Not the bus driver’s for being late, or our partner’s for being imperfect, or the waitress’s for keeping us waiting to place an order when we are hungry!
Sharon Salzberg tells the story of two wolves: there are two wolves that live inside us and you decide which one grows strong - it is the one you feed. You can watch it here. You can choose what you hang onto, what you feed, and what you let go of. Rather than being controlled by anger, you can be empowered. It just takes practice.
Following are some steps you can take to help you do this:
1) Acknowledge and experience the anger. Many people mistakenly believe they never get angry which usually means they’re suppressing it (about 20% of the general population has levels of hostility and anger that are high enough to be dangerous to their health – that’s one in five people).
2) Feel the anger, which is different to experiencing it. Only then will you discover that anger is an emotion, an arising energy, not the hatred and violence it has the potential to become if we fuel it by dwelling on how we think things are. Feel where it is in the body; notice how your breathing has changed. Doing this helps turn your attention away from whatever it is that’s annoying you back towards yourself, helping defuse what otherwise might be a blind, knee jerk, and emotion-driven response.
3) Analyse why you’re angry. What are the different thoughts that make up all your “stories”? Take those thoughts captive and don’t let them run riot. Which of your buttons are being pushed? If what’s really going on is more about you – and it often is – why lash out?
4) Remind yourself that anger is temporary (unless you feed it) and will pass, just like all the other emotions.
5) Respond wisely to your anger. Having stopped to feel your anger as simply an arising energy, it’s easier to then pause, take a deep breath and consciously decide what you’re going to do next: start yet another war or … make peace.