Whether it is you or someone you know who gets angry, anger gets in the way of good relationships. Making those relationships work smoothly is a difficult task, and requires some fine judgements as to when to stay passive, when to intervene, when to challenge, and when to stay back.
Anger situations tend to be those in which someone is experiencing internal tension which they are unable to handle without it affecting their behaviour. In particular, the behavioural response of the angry person loses its contact with the reason that usually informs action. This means that, when angry, we are less reasonable, less considerate.
While the angry person is without their reason, there can be little hope for success in bringing that person back to themselves with similar behaviour. In such confrontations, we often end up with two angry people, not just one. In that sense, anger can be infectious. Watch a fight break out at a rugby match, and you will see what I mean.
BEING SOFT LIKE A CUSHION
Imagine two hard objects colliding. Their weight and speed means that the collision is likely to cause a noise, and quite possibly an injury to one or other object. Now imagine a hard object, such as a brick, being dropped onto a large bean bag. The bean bag moulds itself to the shape of the brick, and uses its own accepting form to lessen the impact of the brick’s fall.
In anger situations, we can either stay in ‘hard object’ mode, and carry on insisting that the world shape itself to our form… or we can move into ‘cushion mode’, and mould our understanding to the shape of the situation. In cushion mode, we protect both ourselves and others.
KEEPING YOUR INTEGRITY
It is important to note that, by going into cushion mode, we are not giving away our moral sense. Some people worry that, if they soften, this means that they are somehow ‘giving in’ to the angry person. But this isn’t necessarily so. The situation is more complex than that.
Certainly, if we feel that someone else is hurting both themselves and others with their behaviour, it can be good to offer challenge, and provide appropriate resistance. This is sometimes necessary to reduce the hurt. But we can still learn to be soft and supple in our approach. Like a skilful practitioner of a martial art, we can avoid anger in ourselves, and remain flexible in our movement. This way, a far greater range of actions is open to us.
Can I feel my own anger at a very early stage, before it starts to hurt others? Can I find quick ways of making myself more supple and flexible, so that I don’t hurt myself or others?
Can I remain calm in the face of others’ anger? Can I avoid joining the queue of angry people?
Can I learn the skill of becoming like a cushion when others are stressed? Can I keep my powers of reason, and develop the skill to absorb and diffuse anger, like a great practitioner of the martial arts?