Stoic Anger

Are you angry?

I subscribe to the Daily Stoic, and a few weeks back the post spoke about Anger; how looking in the mirror when you are angry will let you know how unrecognizable you are when you allow fury take over. A link at the bottom of the email connected to Ryan Holiday’s essay, “If You’re Angry, You’re Part of the Problem, Not the Solution.”

Possibly the most fascinating part of these two articles was the responses that Mr. Holiday’s essay received. They were mostly angry, some called Holiday’s article toxic and mentioned his white male privilege. They mostly raged against his arrogance of being a while male spouting off about Anger. I happen to think there is a middle ground. I don’t think he was completely right, but neither was he entirely wrong.


To understand his perspective and to decide if he is blind to the lives of women and people of color, we must explore the Stoic viewpoint. It would take a lifetime of learning to embody this philosophy sufficiently, and I do not intend even to attempt this, precisely because I am still learning. The primary tenant of this school of thought is that we are all human, and as humans, we are subject to the rollercoaster of emotions inherent to our state of being. You must control your emotions rather than allow the feelings to influence your thoughts, behaviors, and actions.

An easy example:

Let’s say you are at a party with friends you haven’t seen in a while, you have had a drink or two and are feeling good, positive, and optimistic.  One friend suggests that you all get together next weekend to go sky diving, everyone shouts an enthusiastic, “hell yeah!” Including you. Later that night or the following day, the glow of camaraderie dissipates. You remember that you are afraid of heights or you have another obligation that day, your child’s birthday party, or a family outing. You are going to have to decline, and you regret your previous night’s exuberance. A stoic perspective might have saved you from this uncomfortable position.

A stoic in the same situation would not have allowed emotions to control her response. The stoic would have declined, rather than allowing feelings of celebration to sway her decision.  It is a simplistic example, but it does the job.

(For more information on Stoicism, do a google search or read on Wikipedia here.)

Back to Anger

I’ll be honest, when I got the email about Anger, I was put off. My first thought was that there was some truth to what he was saying. But also that Anger and emotions are not controlled by a simple on/off switch, especially in today’s trying times. I also know that when folks write, you cannot take one article as their whole perspective or philosophy on life.

It might help to explore the word Anger. It can be healthy or unhealthy, just as the example above about Joy. This hard emotion tends to get a bad rap, especially if it is coming from women or minority populations. The folks in Mr. Holiday’s comment section were reflecting that perspective. People who feel they have no other choice but to rage against the machine that has oppressed them and others like them are angry, and they make a big, big, noise. Advising them not to be offended is akin to telling a wave not to crash against the shore. But is there another way?

Martin Luther King Jr was a perfect example used in Holiday’s article, MLK used love rather than hate or Anger. Was he passionate? Yes. Was he effective? Oh yes. Was he powerful? Yes! Yes! Yes! Was he likely angry? Of course, he was, but he didn’t show that Anger as the primary motivator; he offered hope, courage, and a dream. He did not allow his emotions to control him.

I believe that Anger is a healthy emotion; it helps us establish boundaries, stand up for ourselves, and it tells us something is wrong. When we allow Anger to become rage or uncontrolled fury though, that is when we have lost control. Losing control means our thinking processes become clouded, and we are less able to view the big picture. If we use Anger as the gas for action rather than the entire vehicle, our forward momentum may be more accepted and understood by others.

Middle of the road?

I mentioned earlier that there might be a middle ground. I understand the rage that most people feel towards the current U.S. administration. But will pointing fingers, calling names, and raging in public get you where you want to go? Folks blame the POTUS for his divisive words and actions, but we choose to play the game. We decided to re-post the heckling commentary and articles with hostile leads; we categorize “other’s” into groups of “for us” or “against us.” We allow our emotions to create a divide between other humans; we react rather than respond. If you let someone’s words create Anger, you have lost control.
I am curious if anyone, after reading the two articles I linked to in this post, have similar or opposing views. Do you think there are a time and place to let full-on rage take you over?  Many do so you would not be alone. I want to hear from you but remember my rules, please.

Keep listening,