Summary: An in-depth look at wrath, or anger, and the ways in which we can deal with it
Alexander the Great was one of the few men in history who deserved the adjective appended to his name. He was beset, however, with a horrific temper, and though he did manage to rein it in more often than not, on one occasion he was swept away by his passion. At a banquet given for Dionysius, someone disparaged the old Macedonian officers who had fought under Alexander’s father, Philip, arousing the ire of one of them present there. His name was Clitus.
An old friend of Alexander, Clitus was now a general in the army. Rising to his feet, he told Alexander, whose life Clitus had once saved, that he had obtained his fame with the blood of the Macedonian officers who were being belittled, then drunkenly insulted Alexander some more. Furious, Alexander hurled a spear at the man, killing him instantly. Remorse followed, as it often does, but it was too late. His friend was dead, slain by his hand.
The newspapers are filled with stories of people killing one another in fits of passion, and if we have a tendency to temper tantrums, there is a good chance that we might kill somebody too—in spirit, if not body—if we don’t take steps to bring our anger under control.
To do this, we need to understand a couple of things. One: anger is a very grave sin. It may not be the worst of the capital sins—the Church and most saints believe that there are other sins far worse—but it opens gates that lead to many other sins.
And two: we can control it. Many people who get angry believe that the force of their emotion is greater than their ability to master. This is not true, especially not for the Christian: One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control.
The other faces of anger
We can all recognize passionate anger when we see it, both in ourselves and in others. The snarling face is all too recognizable as belonging to somebody who is furious. But anger has many faces and we sometimes don’t realize we are angry when we are.
Are you disturbed about something? Irritated? Frustrated? These are words that signify underlying anger and can result in violent outbursts. In August 1996, actress Shannen Doherty smashed a beer bottle on a driver’s car window—frustrated because he refused to argue with her!
Irritation too, often leads to acts of violence. A lot of the road rage that we witness—and, perhaps, engage in—begins with irritation. We let it build until it reaches a point where we no longer can control it and end up abusing a passing driver, making a rude sign at him, or worse.
It isn’t only people who can irritate us. Birds can too! Jim Taylor in Currents tells the following story about his friend, Ralph Milton. One morning Ralph woke up at five o’clock to a noise that sounded like someone repairing boilers on his roof. Still in his pajamas, he went into the back yard to investigate. He found a woodpecker on the TV antenna, “pounding its little brains out on the metal pole.” Angry at the little creature who ruined his sleep, Ralph picked up a rock and threw it. The rock sailed over the house, and he heard a distant crash as it hit the car. In utter disgust, Ralph took a vicious kick at a clod of dirt, only to remember—too late—that he was still in his bare feet. Uncontrolled anger, as Ralph learned, can sometimes be its own reward.
Anger has still more faces. How often have you made these statements to describe how you feel? “I’m outraged.” “I’m exasperated.” “I’m disturbed.” “I feel used.” “I’m provoked.” “I’m resentful.” “I’m repulsed.” Or “I’m upset.”
They all indicate anger. Are you beginning to see what I mean about how we sometimes don’t realize that we may be angry? Here’s a final one for thought. Have you said, “I’m disappointed,” lately? Why are you disappointed? Because things haven’t gone your way. So how does that really make you feel? Angry, right?
The many expressions of anger
Not everybody takes a gun and starts shooting people when they get angry, or engage in fisticuffs. Some don’t even raise their voices or break things. They express their anger in other ways and these are some of the ways we may be expressing anger without even realizing that we are, actually, angry: sadness, bitterness, unforgiveness, abuse, rudeness, disagreement, sarcasm, nitpicking, retaliation, stubbornness, withdrawal.
It was when going through this list that I realized I was still an angry person, taking to express my anger in sarcasm. At the time I had been involved in discussions with a leader from my local parish about working together. This plan wasn’t panning out in the manner either of us wanted. We could, possibly, have sorted out our differences easily enough in a meeting, but we began writing to each other instead. He began getting increasingly nasty with each mail. For my part, I began getting increasingly sarcastic, though it was cloaked in such politeness, it was barely recognizable as such until a friend pointed it out to me. Of course, I took immediate steps to rectify the mistake, though it shook me to realize how easily sin could be concealed in ignorance.