Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Anger Management

(It's another evening in the Junction. Max and Nat are discussing Zack, who happens to be absent.)

Nat: ...So I told him to calm down, but that was a big mistake - he turned on me and started yelling that how could I be asking him to calm down in the face of such an outrage, and did I expect him just to lie down and accept this fraud...

Max (shrugging): Why am I not surprised? Of course he turned on you - the vendor who sold him the 'recent' magazine that turned out to be a year old was miles away at that point. Also, you know how he can reason sometimes - "he who is not for me is against me" - and since you weren't joining in his vocal condemnation, you had automatically allied yourself with the Forces of Evil.

Nat (resignedly): But what was yelling at me going to achieve? It wasn't as if it did him any good - at one point, he was ranting so ferociously that some saliva went down the wrong way and sent him into a coughing fit, and if there hadn't be a glass of water ready, perhaps we would be having a different discussion today.

Max: Well, you can put that question to him yourself, since he's just walked in. (Turns to Zack, who has walked up to their table) Hello Max, we were just talking about you.

Zack (suspiciously): Talking about me? Why?

Nat (to Max): See? This is the kind of behaviour I was talking about. An ordinary person would just accept that these things happen. After all, that's what your friends do - they talk about you. But for Zack - oh no, he has to apply his Great Big Magnifying Glass and try and unpick the motives and agenda behind an innocent conversation.

Zack (irritated): What are you talking about? Is it wrong for me to know why I'm being discussed? Have you considered that I might be able to shed some light on the matter, since I know myself better than you or Max?

Max: You think you can shed some light on this matter that we are discussing?

Zack: Well, tell me what the matter is first!

Max: Are you sure you can do this?

Zack (getting more irritated): Why all this drama? Tell me now!

Max (with a glint of mischief): Are you really sure you can do this?

Zack (now really annoyed): I said tell me what matter you want me to shed light on first!

Max (now openly grinning): Are you really, really, really sure you want to do this, Brother Zachariah?

Zack (furious at this point): All right, don't tell me! You think I don't have better things to do than listen to you play your stupid childish games? I think you should be ashamed of yourself, behaving like a big-for-nothing fool... (He breaks off when he notices that Nat is sighing and shaking his head.) What is this? Some sort of joke? Nat, I'm very disappointed in you. I don't expect any less from this... this... (gestures contemptuously at Max, who is still grinning) but from you?

Nat (still sighing): All right, perhaps I should tell you what we were discussing, then. It was your tendency to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation, which you have just amply demonstrated.

Zack (bristling): Slightest provocation? You call that slight provocation?

Max (gesturing expansively): See? You're even provoked at the suggestion that you're easily provoked.

Zack: Wouldn't you be annoyed if I had asked you those foolish questions you were asking me earlier?

Max: Actually, no - I wouldn't. And I doubt that Nat would be, either - we would just be curious, or we'd lose interest if you weren't forthcoming about the matter. Face it - you, my friend, have a serious anger management problem. (Smiling) And don't try to angrily deny it, or you'll just be proving my point.

Nat: And this is also what I was discussing with Max - what is it about you that makes you get angry so easily? I mean, do you enjoy getting angry? Or is it an involuntary response? Personally, I can't really see that it's an enjoyable experience - your voice rises, your breathing gets faster, your heart begins to race, you begin to sweat, and even when the moment has passed, you can't think of anything else for the next few minutes.

(Zack is pensive for a few moments.)

I think that you guys are confusing anger with indignation. There is pointless, useless anger which is directed at things that are of no consequence. And there is indignation, or righteous anger which is directed at wrongs, and which spurs the person feeling the anger to change the wrong to right. (Smiling) I think you'll find that most of the time, what I experience is indignation.

Nat: Zack, I think you'll find that everyone will claim to experience indignation. After all, what is the point in getting angry with matters that are of no consequence?

Max: Yes, we challenge you to think of a single case of pointless anger.

Zack: All right, what of when someone gets angry over because someone has refused to offer him a bribe?

Max (surprised): What are you talking about? In the eyes of the prospective bribe-taker, that's holy, righteous anger! As far as he is concerned, it is right for him to receive 'compensation' for his 'good deeds' - so it is a matter of Grave Consequence when someone withholds this 'compensation'!

Nat: I thought you were going to give an example where someone gets angry over a politician stealing money from the national treasury. Now that's definitely pointless anger.

Zack: What is pointless about that? I think that that is actually a very good example of righteous anger - getting angry over people's wrongdoing.

Max: I think the point that Brother Nathaniel is trying to make is that this kind of anger is impotent. It's not going to spur you to get an AK-47 then go out and mow down the politician in a hail of bullets, which - as I'm sure you'll agree - is the only fitting punishment for him.

Nat: In fact, it's worse than the ordinary anger you experience when someone calls you a fool - because at least, you can do something about the source of your anger, maybe by throwing an insult back. Here, all you can do is stew in rage. In fact, come to think of it, you will be the one doing yourself harm, raising your stress levels and blood pressure. How ironic is that?

Zack: Well, there's still a point to feeling angry about these things. Think about it. If a politician steals money and you're indifferent to it, what does that tell you about the state of your morality?

Nat: You're making a mistake. We're not indifferent - we just don't get excited about it the way you do. Let me put it this way - do you get furious about politicians stealing money in Turkmenistan?

Zack (puzzled): Turkmenistan? Where is that?

Max: See? You probably disapprove of the act - but you don't know enough about Turkmenistan to care deeply enough about whether money is stolen, and therefore, you don't get really angry. That's the whole point - you have to care to get angry, and Nat and I have decided that we don't care enough.

Nat: Actually, correction there, Max - I didn't decide not to care. I just woke up one day and found that I no longer cared enough. In other words, it just happened - I had no real part to play. And perhaps that's what goes with Zack too - he gets angry not because he has considered the pros and cons, but because he can't help himself.

Zack (shaking his head vigorously): No-o, Nat! The way you say it, you make it look like I have no say in the matter. On the contrary, my anger is a by-product of my highly developed sense of right and wrong.

Max (scornfully): Highly developed sense of right and wrong my right buttock! More like highly developed sense of bitterness and envy at those who are enjoying what you've been denied. Not that you would be pacified if you were in their position - oh no, you would direct your 'righteous anger' towards those who were bitter and jealous of your good fortune.


Zack (holding out his hands as though to ward something off): Hey! My friend, don't project your warped morals on to me. I don't recognise this world of bitterness and envy that you're going on about.

Max (dismissively): Why would you recognise it? Is it not the case that the he-goat is so steeped in its own smell that it cannot distinguish it from other smells? Not that I have a problem with your anger coming from your bitterness and jealousy - at least, that sounds more real than this strange idea of your anger that reminds you that you are a moral person. Who cares if you're the holiest of holies if your anger doesn't move you to do something about your situation?

Nat: Yes, Zack - I agree with Max there. Surely actions are more important than feelings?

Zack: And who says that my anger won't eventually drive me to do something about the situation? If it's very difficult to resolve, don't you think it would be madness for me just to charge out there trying to fix it when I haven't even sat down to think through the solution? That would just be hot, unfocused anger. Me, I prefer to channel my anger constructively so that at the end of the day, I have a solution which actually works.

Max (smirking): So based on all the times I've seen you get angry since I've known you, I guess that by now you must have enough anger channelled to solve the problems of global hunger, poverty, disease and strife.

Nat (smiling): I think that when you go into that small, dark room where neither I nor Max can see you, you'll admit that you do display a lot of hot anger.

Zack (exasperatedly): All right, I blow off every now and then - but what is so bad about that? At least I'm honest about my anger - when I get angry, everybody knows. And once I have vented, that's the end of the matter. But you, Nat - you are a different proposition altogether.

Nat (defensively): What about me? I hardly ever get angry.

Zack: Ah, but this is the thing. Your anger is of the silent, cold and deadly variety. If someone offends you, instead of announcing it to the world as you should do, you harbour it inside yourself and allow it to simmer and burn until one day it just explodes without warning. And even before the anger has burst forth, you will be taking style to land some 'stealth jabs' at the target of your anger instead of coming out directly.

Nat (hotly): That's a lie! I don't know what you're talking about.

Max: And that's the proof - just see that display of hot anger.

Zack: Oh? Remember that time a few years ago when I borrowed your camera and I forgot to return it? Instead of you to come out and say that you weren't happy, you just went cold on me - and if Max hadn't let slip that this was the reason, we could just have continued like that.

Nat: What are you talking about? I reminded you at least twice about the camera, and you still refused to return it. In fact, the second time I reminded you, you acted irritated like I was bothering you!

Max (smirking): You see the negative effects of hot anger, Zack? If you display it too excessively, people will simply avoid you - after all, who enjoys being shouted at?

Zack (surprised): Did I really tell you not to bother me? My brother, I'm sorry o! Maybe I was in a bad mood that day. The day my friends are so scared of my anger that they keep their thoughts to themselves, then I know that I am really in trouble!

Max (smiling in mock innocence): So... shall I take that as official permission to reveal my thoughts about you, whether they are to your liking or not?

Zack: Of course! It's not as if you have every asked for my permission before.

Nat: Ah - but for him to have your official permission... now that's another story. That would be like asking a Nigerian policeman whether he wants to be stationed at a checkpoint which is passed only by cars carrying rich people whose vehicle papers are not in order. And I'm talking about rich people who happen to like Nigerian policemen and who are in a good mood, too.

Zack (in a relaxed tone): Oh, I'm big enough to take whatever he has to say.

Max: Are you sure?

Zack Yes!

Max: Are you really sure?

Zack (beginning to get irritated): I said yes - or are you deaf?

Max (grinning evilly): are you really, really, really sure???

Nat (covering his ears and thinking to himself): All right, this is where I stand by for another explosion of hot anger...

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