Anger: Everyone’s Just a Thread Away from Snapping

We all know anger. It rears its ugly head when you least expect it, and it bites faster than a rattlesnake on a hot afternoon in Texas.

A few mornings ago my running group met before work for our long run. We ran on a Friday instead of our usual Saturday morning because one of our members had a memorial service to attend the next day and we didn’t want her to have to run 16 miles on her own. We’re a tight group and that’s how we roll.

We met at the impossibly early hour of 5:30, but the weather was perfect. 58 degrees, no wind, and clear skies. There were four of us and the run was surprisingly tough, but mostly uneventful. We ran down to our local lake, did an extra 3 miles out and back, then ran the full 9 mile loop and back up to where we had started from.  Since it was a work day there wasn’t the usual mob scene of runners and bikers vying for supremacy on the road and path. Everyone behaved themselves and the run was incident free.

Well, there was one small unintended incident, and it caused some anger.

Around mile 9 I realized I needed a bathroom break. At mile 10 I realized I had missed the port-a-potty. At mile 11.5 we suddenly spotted one and everyone came to a stop. We were tired, it was early, we had already run a long way, and we weren’t paying attention. Someone took a step over the dividing line on the path and almost got plowed down by a cyclist. I apologized for us, he started yelling, I mumbled under my breath thanks for letting us know you were there  (because he didn’t say on your left as he passed) and he yelled back WELL, THANKS FOR LOOKING! We were in the wrong, we didn’t do it on purpose, it all happened very quickly–as most accidents do–and we had apologized.

I honestly only mumbled what I did because he started yelling at us, and I wasn’t mean about it. It was merely an observation.

This battle between cyclists and runners is an old one with no winners. Because he was dressed in a sweatshirt and plumber’s shorts (yes, it was gross) we knew he was probably just someone from the neighborhood and not a serious cyclist. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt because we should’ve paid more attention.

But my friend was so right when she made the comment as he rode away: People are SO ANGRY these days. It’s like everyone’s just a thread away from snapping.

I’ve been noticing the same thing a lot lately, too. All you have to do is look around wherever you go and you’ll see lots and lots of very angry people.

Now that I’m home during the day, I have much less stress in my life and my moods manage to stay fairly even keeled. (Usually. I’m not perfect, and I do live in Dallas.) But just driving a few miles up the road to the grocery store is like a violent video game come to life. People do the most ridiculous things from the anonymity of their cars, and most of it is just plain mean. And stupid. And sometimes dangerous.

The same friend who stepped in the path of the cyclist the other day has been telling us about the “psycho dads” she’s had to deal with this year (she works in a public elementary school). On three separate occasions in the past seven weeks of school she’s had fathers fly off the handle over small matters involving their children. In my last few years of teaching we all noticed that more and more often we were up against parents who liked to yell first, blame everyone else next, and ask questions later. It always involved something that didn’t warrant that level of anger–and they certainly weren’t setting a good example for their children, who usually stood by embarrassed because of the scene their parents were making.

Turn on the TV or internet these days and you’ll quickly see that this country has an anger problem. From politics to trashy talk shows to angry, rude comments on news websites, there’s a lot of anger out there.

What are we all so angry about?

There are all the usual reasons: work, stress, relationships, money, time, and so on. Those will never go away and anger will always exist. But can we really continue as a society if we don’t learn to keep our negative emotions in check? I don’t believe in pretending not to feel something that’s there, but I do think we must find better ways of dealing with our lives than indiscriminate  anger.

And lest you think I’m sitting up here on my high horse, I’m just as guilty as everyone else. I’ve been known to say a few choice words under my breath while driving the streets of Dallas, and nothing can set me off more than someone who is purposely rude and mean. I grew up in a family filled with anger and I’m quick to become defensive and indignant when provoked. But I also make an effort to be considerate of others–even strangers–and to not make a fool of myself if I can help it.

When someone does something that makes me angry, like cut me off in traffic, I try to remind myself, that could be me, I’ve done that before, too. Or when I hold the door open for someone and they walk through without even a glance, I try to remind myself that I don’t need their thanks.

The bottom line is, all I can do is be aware of my own reactions and my own feelings of anger when they arise. I can’t change anyone, I can’t make them do anything, and getting angry about things usually doesn’t change them.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know the change has to begin with me.

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2 comments

    • Mind Margins

      I bet life in your small town in Germany is much more relaxed and low key. I don’t remember many angry people when I lived in Switzerland, either. People weren’t all that friendly and outgoing either, and that took a long time to get used to, but it was rare to see anyone lose it in public, like here in the states.

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