According to the latest NPR-IBM Watson Health poll, "42% of those polled said they were angrier in the past year."
Most of us think we are better than average. We believe others are getting even angrier than we are: "Some 84% of people surveyed said Americans are angrier today compared with a generation ago."
No wonder some popular politicians speak like they are in a perpetual rage. Joseph Epstein, writing in the Wall Street Journal, observes of Bernie Sanders:
In his earnest self-righteousness and inflexibly held positions, Mr. Sanders reminds one of the Stalinists of old. Whenever I hear him hammering home his points in his staccato speech, using his hands for italics, I recall that old phrase of Jewish mothers of an earlier generation being nagged by their children: "Hak mir nisht keyn tshaynik!" Loosely translated: "Stop rattling that tea kettle in my face."
Epstein adds, "Mr. Sanders isn't a Stalinist, but, judging by his temperament and rigidity, in Stalin's day he might have been."
Sanders won't be giving up his anger anytime soon; his success depends upon attracting angry voters.
And it's not just in the political arena that anger rules the day. Harvard University law professor Ronald Sullivan, forced to step down as a faculty dean, wrote of "angry demands" on college campuses:
Unchecked emotion has replaced thoughtful reasoning on campus. Feelings are no longer subjected to evidence, analysis or empirical defense. Angry demands, rather than rigorous arguments, now appear to guide university policy.
In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius observed, "It's courtesy and kindness that define a human being. That's who possesses strength and nerves and guts, not the angry whiners."
Stop Feeding Your Anger
A few months ago, my wife and I missed our highway exit. When we exited to retrace our steps, we found ourselves backed up at a traffic light. Each time the light turned green, only five cars could make it through before it turned red again. My thinking riffed on getting to our destination on time. As I railed against reality and behaved boorishly, my wife sat still, well, stoically.
At that moment, I was sure my anger was coming from the traffic light. I didn't sign up for a poorly controlled intersection and a delayed trip. Take the issue away, and I would be calm again. Wrong. Anger starts with an internal decision to be angry. If we want to be angry, we will find things to be angry about.