On Anger and Outrage

It is not people’s actions that disturb our peace of mind, but our opinions of their actions. We suffer more from getting angry and upset about such things than we do from the things themselves that are making us angry and upset. When you are too angry or impatient, remember that human life is fleeting and before long all of us will have been laid to rest. — Excerpted from Meditations 11:18.
Righteous indignation seems to be the general timbre of the current American social landscape. Many people wholeheartedly believe that privileged groups are intent on disabusing and marginalizing everyone else. Meanwhile, many others are sure that nefarious political agendas are leading to the destruction of historic democratic values.

Depending on the person's perspective, elected officials, the financially secure, white-skinned people, welfare recipients and illegal aliens are just a few of the supposedly deserving targets of so-called "justifiable" outrage.

I was recently talking to one indignant individual as he explained that he had obtained his “right to carry” license so he could better protect himself. He is a 74-year-old, retired, white-skinned school teacher who resides in a small rural community in Ohio. He lives a modest but secure and comfortable life. He has never been the victim of any kind of criminal activity, yet his conversation is filled with fear and anxiety based entirely on national news reporting. He seems to believe that by parroting news stories and expressing his paranoia about decisions coming out of Washington D.C. that he is somehow accomplishing something beneficial. He is behaving, he believes, as any enlightened and well informed patriotic American should be behaving.

My dad’s birthday is today. If he was still with us he’d be 90 years old. About ten years ago he and his lifelong friend obtained their right to carry licenses. Dad, who was then beginning to show signs of dementia, purchased a very small 22 revolver he could carry in his front pants pocket. One day he was telling me about the gun while attempting to pull it out of his pocket. The pistol, apparently stuck, was resisting his increasingly frustrated tugs and yanks. Concerned, I suggested he might want to calm down or he might shoot his gizmo off. That made him laugh.

Not long after that episode he accidentally shot himself in the hand. He had been attempting to reload the gun when it accidentally fired. He ended up being life flighted to a trauma center where his accident was treated. He got lucky. No major damage. 

Life is so short, indulging in negative emotions seems to me a waste of time and energy. I want to come to the place where fear, anxiety and anger, if not eliminated, are at least significantly minimized in all my thoughts, all my actions and all my relationships.

When I was younger, I knew life was short, but I didn’t really feel it. These days I feel it. I am grateful for each day and happy to simply enjoy nature, read good books, pet my dog and love my wife. The real necessities of life – food, clothes, shelter – are fairly easy to obtain. Meanwhile the desires of life are frequently difficult to satisfy. And, once desires are satisfied, more desires quickly clamor to fill the void. Desire fulfillment can be an exhausting and unending slavery. I am finding a measure of freedom from unecessary desires by being grateful for all that life has already granted me.

If I live as long as my dad, I have about 22 years left. Instead of dedicating my remaining time seeking economic prosperity, respected public status or an enduring legacy, I just hope to become a better human being.

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