November 12, 2018

You Seem Angry

angry face
For some of us, hearing someone say, "You seem angry" prompts an immediate defensive response. "You're damn right, I'm angry!" And then we go on to try to convince whoever said that we seem angry that our anger is justified or even that they are wrong not to be as angry as we are. I'd like to suggest an alternative. The next time someone tells you that you seem angry, whether it occurs in a face-to-face interaction or in response to something you've said online, pause for a moment and don't say anything. Give yourself a moment to reflect. Are you feeling angry at that moment? Have you been feeling angry recently? If so, do you know why?

Now for the hard part. Do you think you come across in an angry manner more than you'd like to? This is where it can be helpful to ask someone you trust to give you their honest impressions of you. And if you don't have someone like that handy, you might ask those who told you that you seem angry what led them to say that. Of course, this will work better if you do in from a place of curiosity than defensiveness. What was it about what you said or how you said it that led this person to comment that you seemed angry?

Why should one bother with any of this? Most people don't enjoy interacting with someone who is angry most of the time. We may initially enjoy their energy and passion, but their negativity tends to wear on us. Over time, we may even come to regard them as toxic. We want to shake some sense into them and exclaim, "Enough already!" Everybody gets angry from time-to-time, but most of us probably don't want to be the sort of people others perceive as being angry about something most of the time.

I've noticed that a handful of people who comment on Atheist Revolution's Facebook page (and a couple who comment directly on the blog) often seem to be angry. I don't know if they are angry, but they certainly seem to be. What would make me say that? They rarely say anything that isn't negative, critical, or argumentative. They often make unwarranted generalizations about entire groups of people (e.g., liberals, conservatives) using inflammatory terms. They are hostile to anyone who expresses views different from their own. There are other indicators, but these are among the most common.

I recognize that some of these people may be trolls and what looks like anger could be an act designed to annoy others and disrupt the page. At the same time, I suspect that at least some of them are angry, probably come across this way in much of their lives, and might be alienating others because of it. From that perspective, I can feel some empathy for them. Some seem like unhappy people.

It probably helps that I used to be like them (i.e., angry most of the time, frequently hostile to others, quick to lash out, convinced I was almost always right and that most of those who disagreed with me were morons). Moving past this was not easy. It took years, and I'm still not sure how successful I would have been without the benefit of some aging. That is, some of my progress had less to do with anything I did and more about aging out of it.

When I encounter someone online who behaves like this, I often feel annoyed by their behavior. I also find myself hoping for something better for them. Too much of their energy is being wasted on anger, and they would likely be happier and more productive if it could be redirected elsewhere. They rarely seem to recognize how their behavior affects those around them, and their relationships might be better if they could do so. I know I'm unlikely to persuade any of them of this. They'll need to figure it out for themselves, and I hope they have an easier time doing so than I did.