An honest discussion about anger

When I recently had a look at the Google Analytics page for this blog, I was surprised to see that the most viewed post was the one about anger and confidence. I was surprised because, first of all, it was quite a personal post and I thought people generally don’t care much for other people’s personal affairs and, secondly, I didn’t think it was really ‘useful’ to the reader in a practical manner. Nevertheless, you’ve gotta give the people what they want, so given that you all liked it so much I decided to give it more attention in an additional post today. This one, similar to the mentioned post, will be a personal reflection on the topic instead of the usual practical, action-based discussions that I post here on Cowboy Funk. It’s basically a part two of that one that I posted in January. So, without further ado, let’s talk about anger.

Where it all got started

To understand my views on anger, I have to cast my mind back to the good ol’ days of my childhood. When I look back on it, I always think about the influence that stories, shows, and videogames had on my personality. Besides the nostalgic value, this is also why I reference and quote them so much in my blog posts. Still though, as I was growing up I often watched the more mature and darker shows, read the more serious stuff, and played the edgier videogames. These were shows like Yu-Gi-Oh (especially from Battle City onwards) and Dragonball Z, and games like the Prince of Persia trilogy and the Kingdom Hearts series.

Sure, these were mostly entertaining to ‘consume’ but what strikes me when I look back at them is how I perceived these things. The deeper concepts like darkness, anger, alter-egos, and inner conflict, hit me so strongly that I just couldn’t suppress my curiosity for these topics. I was utterly fascinated by these concepts and wanted to read and watch more about them (no, this didn’t make me plot to blow up a building or become emotionally ill, as those who know me personally can testify to).  I was absolutely enamored by these characters that were truly fighting for something, sacrificing themselves, and giving their all for a cause; not to mention the beautiful, fantastical worlds they lived in as well. I was desperate to feel the thrill and intensity of their battles and, most of all, the anger that fueled them on their missions. I wanted to have what they had, and more of it.

Anyway, as I reached my teenage years, the content I consumed obviously shifted towards more age-appropriate stuff such as Assassin’s Creed (not the movie!), Avatar The Last Airbender (definitely not the movie!), The Legend of Korra, and the book trilogy His Dark Materials. As is often the case when one gets older, life becomes less childlike and you begin to learn about the more serious affairs of the world. I suppose it wasn’t extremely surprising then that as I watched and read these more “mature” stories, I became more interested in serious, philosophical-ish topics like internal darkness and light in people, the ‘darker side’ of humanity, and the nature of anger. I really saw the practical use of these slightly sketchy concepts – which is where the inspiration for that post about anger and confidence came from – and always tried to apply them to my life in a productive manner.

A funny, but really quite true, example of one of these “productive” endeavors is my passionate pursuit of football (soccer, whatever), both in playing and in spectating. It became the first arena for tasting the thrill of a battle similar to the ones I had always read about and watched. Better yet, they were strikingly similar: victory and defeat, personal sacrifice for the sake of the collective, one side versus another, the raw expression of so many emotions. It sounds extremely odd, but back when I had games and needed to tap in to a deeper source of energy, I just recalled some iconic DBZ scenes (like this or this) or that chilling scene from Yu-Gi-Oh. No, I didn’t beat people up on the pitch; this was just a useful source of the extra drive needed to work harder for the team. And football still is an arena where I see and feel that energy: sometimes the anger, other times the adrenaline, and yet other times the joyful passion.

To be a footballer means being a privileged interpreter of the feelings and dreams of thousands of people.
— César Luis Menotti (Former Argentina coach and World Cup winner)

Other times this productive ‘outlet’ was my work; starting my blog, educating myself to be the very best person I could be, and committing myself to solving some kind of important problem in the world (income inequality is my current obsession). Whatever it was, I was always committed to finding some type of productive outlet for this raw energy/anger.

The danger of anger

Unfortunately, though, it isn’t all wonderful and positive when it comes to anger. Because of this, I obviously have to sound a word of caution in case you do decide to use anger as fuel to power your life’s pursuits.

The most obvious problem here is that you risk just being angry all the frikkin time. The person that’s angry at the world for everything and everyone and thinks the universe is out to get her. Look, you can’t just be angry all the time and think that this will change the world. You can’t rage and rant on the rooftops of social media about all life’s injustices. The key is to harness this energy and channel it into something productive; to balance the relentless energy and drive of your anger with the practical know-how of actually getting shit done. Channel it into practical and long-lasting endeavors instead of “inspiring” the world with those ‘groundbreaking’ 140-character messages of yours (which vaguely reminds me of this article about the rise of ‘clicktivism’).

Emotions can grant you strength. But you must never let them overpower you.
— Winter Schnee from RWBY

So what is that “something productive”? It can range from becoming an active member of your local non-profit, an expert in the economics of income inequality, or a chief advocate for tackling mental health issues in your community. If you use your anger in the right way, it will be the difference between the people who “kinda like something” and those who are driven by something deeper and more powerful. The thing that will make you keep fighting where others might call it a day. You can call it passion or you can call it a relentless desire to follow the energy that is raging inside of you. Whatever you wanna call it, make sure to channel it into a productive endeavor.

If you use your anger in the right way, it will be the difference between the people who “kinda like something” and those who are driven by something deeper and more powerful.

Now I know what you’re thinking. If there’s the possibility of channeling your anger into something productive, there must exist the opposite possibility of channeling it into something unproductive. There are too many examples of this to name such as the vain pursuits of climbing the corporate ladder, striving for the most likes on social media posts, or trying to earn the highest salary imaginable. There’s little else I can do than tell you this: don’t do it mate. Just don’t, it’s not worth it. Do it for something that you would be proud to tell your (grand)children, nephews, and nieces about.

I’m starting to question all of it Francis. What are we doing this for?
— Claire Underwood (House of Cards)

Parting Words

In closing, I want to emphasize that even though anger can give you that crucial extra edge that other people lack, the most difficult thing to achieve is composed anger. That perfect stasis where you have the relentless drive to battle for your good cause but the composure to handle it with a rational and almost scientific precision. To have that angry hunger to fix the problem of, for example, homelessness, but the rational composure to understand the economic and political aspects of it and put together the right team of people to tackle it.

As I look back at the stories that captured me so much as a child growing up, I now realize that the common denominator of all them was this: these characters were always fighting for something, something greater than themselves. A community. A people. A principle. An idea. This fight, this fire and anger to battle for something greater than yourself, THAT was what I wanted more than anything.

We dream of leaving our stamp upon the world... even as we give our lives in a conflict that will be recorded in no history book. All that we do, all that we are, begins and ends with ourselves.
— Arno (Assassin’s Creed Unity)

Nevertheless, the cynical reader will probably recognize that this is a similar type of speech used by extremists and, unfortunately, religious fanatics. That cynicism is absolutely fair which is why, in closing, I leave you with words of caution. You have to guard against and be in control of your emotions, especially your anger. You have to guard against the harm it can cause you and others if you let it get out of control. Always ask yourself this: are you using your emotion in the name of something good or using it as an excuse to please your own darker, selfish desires?

Emotions can grant you strength. But you must never let them overpower you.

See you, Space Cowboy