Anger is Increasing – but why?

This morning, my dog and I crossed the road at a four-way stop crosswalk. There were cars at all four corners of the intersection. I waited until all four who had been waiting went and then I started across. It was 7:50, which probably meant some of the drivers waiting for me were almost late for work. That’s the setup for a situation you have already guessed at.

I was halfway across, when the driver right beside me honked the horn. Neither I or my dog was going slowly. As that happened, the car opposite just screeched her tires and ran through, missing me by about four feet. Inexplicably, she gave me the finger.

Yesterday, the Interstate by my house was closed for several hours. At 4 am two men had an incident of road rage. They stopped by the side of the road to argue some more. One of the men beat the other to death with a blunt instrument. Then he walked away from it and while he walked up the freeway, he was hit and killed by a car going by.

Another friend barely escaped an incident in Portland two weeks ago when white supremacists and anti-fascist groups were protesting *something* and my friend came out of a brunch engagement into the middle of it. She told me she had never seen anger like that.

This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the abominable show of anger and vitriol at Charlottesville, Virginia. Who can get those angry images out of the head?

In the January 5, 2016 issue of Time Magazine, one of the editorials had the title “Why Are Americans So Angry About Everything”. This was two and a half years ago, and they reported that every year for the past decade, people in this country have gotten angrier than the year before. They presented some fairly plausible reasons for this surge of indignation, but they proposed no real solution.

Since I seem to have a regular front row seat for other people’s anger, I am curious as to the reasons myself. Is it the same as it has always been? Perhaps. But I think our obsession with telling the rest of the world our opinion and the means to truly get it out to everyone (television and Internet) has coalesced together into a firestorm of anger.

For the spiritual woman or man, this anger feels like a degenerative disease. Though we have to admit that few things change without someone getting angry, the anger of Today does not seem constructive in any shape. Destruction exists at the core of most anger these days.

What is fueling it? There are many reasons, maybe as many as there are people. But there are some psychological trends which show up a lot.

1. Entitlement. Nothing fuels anger quicker than that sense you are not getting treated the way you are entitled. If someone cuts you off in traffic, doesn’t represent you in government, doesn’t give you a raise, won’t listen to you, this brings out that sense of indignation.

2. Deficit. We do not like to feel we are falling behind others on no account of our own. We do not want to hear the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. This sense of deficit I believe is what caused the person to honk their horn at me and the woman to almost run me down. I had let four cars go before walking through–but I had made them wait. Abraham Lincoln was asked one time why his boys were fighting. “They have this world’s disease” he answered. “I have three cookies and they both want two.”

3. Threatened. Many times, anger is fueled by fear. We are afraid and need to protect ourselves. The Amygdala in our brain is designed to respond to fear with a countering burst of angry emotion. This emotion may be what spawned the fatal road rage incident near my house. It certainly creates the attack/counter-attack scenarios associated with many public protests.

4. Status. We do not want to lose ground in life. The most common “game” interaction between humans is called the Zero Sum Game. That is, if one person is perceived to win in a situation, the other person is perceived to have lost. Because so much of American culture is built around the Zero Sum Game, we don’t even see it any more. We no longer see the Cooperative Principle which states “unless we all win, we all lose”. When we believe we are losing in any relationship, our natural reaction is anger.

5. Intimidation. Building on the concepts of Status and Entitlement, the idea that only the strongest survive also fuels our anger. From the child who throws a tantrum even before entering the grocery store, to the gang member who brandishes his weapon the first time he meets a new gang member, many people feel the need to stake out their territory before it is taken from them or challenged. The best way to indicate this is anger. It is our way of saying to someone, “be wary, I’m watching your every move”.

You may be able to see that all of these are incompatible with the life lived following Jesus. He cared nothing for Status. He could have intimidated others, but instead washed their feet. He felt no need to threaten anyone, and even when he could have called down angels from heaven, he refused to. He warned his disciples to ignore the deficit they felt inside toward each other and to serve each other instead. And he did not feel he was entitled to hold onto his status as God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.

As goes the Master, so go the servants.

It is time we looked at our anger to see if we are being angry in a godly way. “Be angry and sin not” the book of Ephesians says.

Is that your anger?