I wandered down some weird mental roads while on my various road trips lately. Wyoming and backroads South Dakota tend to do that to me.
For the last year or so, I’ve been working to lessen the presence of anger in my life, because it makes me uncomfortable. I feel like there are better things I could be doing, and I realize that just being around an angry, negative person drains the people around you: whenever I’m around someone like that, I’m embarrassed, both for them and for myself.
When you have a habit, it’s like it revolves around a personal narrative, some story that you have in your head. “My parents never loved me.” “I’m not good enough.” “What if something goes wrong?” “If only there were a way to make things perfect.” “I have to make sure everyone gets along.” “They’d be lost without me.” “People only like me when I’m good.” “I’m too fat.” “I’m the life of the party.”
These personal narratives keep repeating over and over in our heads, I think, and control a great deal more of our actions (especially our habits) than we realize most of the time. We define ourselves; then, whether or not our definitions are accurate, we stick by them. We brainwash ourselves.
Why? Probably because autopilot is efficient. Thinking about things all the time is very draining. Asking question after question, feeling like you’re walking on eggshells all the time…doubt is draining.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options, between being brainwashed and not knowing which leg of our pants to put on first. That’s beside the point at the moment, though.
One of the personal narratives that goes along with anger is: “It’s not my fault.”
So, if someone cuts you off in traffic, if you’re stuck in a jam, if your car breaks down: “It’s not my fault.” Other people are bad drivers who won’t get out of the way, and crap always happens to you. Road rage is what happens when other people get angry; it’s perfectly reasonable when it’s you (or me, really).
I have a hard time keeping my temper in the car. I’m not the best driver at the best of times, and I have tunnel vision when I’m angry, which just makes me worse. I’m tense, I drive jerkily, I slam on the brakes.
It turns out, that truly competent drivers do not handle the same situations the way an angry driver does. Competent drivers handle bad drivers with ease. Competent drivers plan for traffic, and don’t get stuck in it unnecessarily, and when it’s necessary, they handle it calmly. Competent drivers maintain their cars. When road rage happens, it’s not because of them; they are calmly changing lanes and getting away from the screaming rage monkeys. Being safe.
Personally, whenever I’m angry or snippy or frustrated or sneering, I have to stop and think, “Why am I not handling this situation like a competent person?”
Okay, to loop around to the title of this post, using Star Wars:
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
So, here’s my thought.
The dark side comes out of incompetence. Indirectly. People going, “Why won’t things be the way I want them to be?” and instead of finding a long-term, sustainable way to make the changes they want to see in the world, they go after them with a sledgehammer. Instead of acknowledging that other people truly exist, have their own goals, desires, and physical existence in the world (“Why the hell are all these cars out here?”), treating them as though they exist to make life easier or harder for you (me). Define other people as stupid, weak, useless–and then it’s okay to take that sledgehammer to them.
Every time you get angry, frustrated, or feel superior to someone, it’s because you’re not competent enough to deal with them as human beings. Your lack, not theirs.
Competent drivers take incompetent drivers into account.
–That’s the moral of the story, all stories. Be good, because it means you’re competent at dealing with the world around you in a long-term way. Evil, after you strip off all the religious and moral trappings, is just another word for foolish. “Good” is whatever the author or teller determines it to be, of course, and we all disagree about that, because human beings just aren’t smart enough to forsee unintended outcomes. Russian fairy tales worship tricksters. Romance writers worship people who follow their hearts. Grammarians worship people who don’t fuck with apostrophe’s.
But “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a very long-term view. So is “turn the other cheek.” And the opposite of anger.