What happened to anger?

Posted on October 8, 2009


I left the Army in 1992. I had led a tank platoon in the First Gulf War. I was used to dealing with military people and civilian contractors. A little anger sometimes got things done, but it was exhausting. Working in retail sales was great for me, because it forced me learn new ways of interacting. It took time, though. When I first went to work at Wizards of the Coast, in 1994, I earned the nickname “The Postmaster,” partly because I walked into a post, and partly because I had the reptuation of being like a disgruntled postal worker (the link is for those outside the US who may not get the reference).

As life went on, I found it much easier to get things done with a smile, a joke, and some real compassion than I did with anger. At the same time, though, I noticed something happening. Angry people became demonized. Anger itself became evil. That made me uncomfortable, but I understood it. We were growing as a company and becoming more professional. Or were we?

Angry people still won at negotiation meetings, but the victories didn’t stick. People who wouldn’t stand up for their ideas in meetings would get together outside the meetings and undo whatever happened in the meeting. Anger wasn’t unsuccessful or wrong, it was trumped by passive-aggressive behaviors. So abandoning anger and restraining your personal power became a necessity.

Granted, anger is one of the seven deadly sins. It’s better to achieve success through compassion and reasoning than through force, truly. That said, why do we react so disapprovingly to displays of anger? It’s a natural part of being human. Suppressing our feelings never ends well. What we feel expresses itself through our bodies, in illness and discomfort, if we don’t have a constructive outlet.

So I don’t mind when people get angry around me. Usually they’re angry about something, not at me, so I can focus on how to help them be happy again. If someone’s angry and I’m not involved, I tend to watch until it ends. Expressing anger is one thing, but doing so through physical violence is unacceptable and I stand ready to shut it down – which can usually be done by loudly announcing myself as a witness. People don’t like to fight when someone else is watching.

Me, I like to run. Lifting weights is terrific, but longer workouts help me more, and a long run is easier for me than a long strength training sessions. I’m not always angry when I run, but I’m rarely angry when I finish!

What happened to anger? Well, people where I live got passive aggressive and aggressive aggressive behavior became unsuccessful. We also went too far in being “civilized.” Feel your anger, people. Just find constructive ways to express it.