“The outcome of great anger is madness. Hence we should avoid anger, not to keep things in moderation, but to preserve our sanity.” – Seneca, Letter 18.15
Even though my understanding of Latin has faded into a dark cloudy dullness, perhaps the translator (A.A. Long) of the former quote would have better served the general reader if he were to use the word ‘extreme’ rather than great. Anger in and of itself can be a good thing. It can motivate us to take positive and constructive action against an injustice; whereas ‘highly intense’ anger can bring about d/anger and self-defeating behaviour, including negative stress on the body that may lead to sickness and confusion.
For me, anger often means that something needs to be addressed in the here and now. As in a smoke detector that reminds one to take action. Should it be an actual grease fire on the kitchen stove, additional anger will do little to mitigate the problem; in fact, sustained anger may lead to frustration, which in turn can impede on clear thinking, thus reduce reaction time and awareness of options.
Due to the precarious nature of anger, and how it can bring about unnecessary harm in all sorts of circumstances, it would be prudent to take proactive steps to better equip ourselves in managing anger in general. Even if we are relatively even-minded in most situations to date, it is still a good idea to learn how to orient ourselves around those who have anger issues, be it our boss, colleagues or subordinates.
Here’s a stabilizing thought by Seneca that can help to scale back the intensity of anger: “Nothing is serious if one takes it lightly, nothing needs to be annoying, provided that one doesn’t add one’s own annoyance to it.” (Seneca, Letter 123.1) In other words, tame your body to remain calm and refuse to add fuel to the fire. These two acts alone can help to bring immense relief to the fiery nature of anger and keep us from spinning out of control.
Once we are able to comprehend the nature of the vice (viciousness) at hand, then we are better able to choose the appropriate virtue (life skill) to restore equanimity. Fighting fire with fire destroys. As Stoics let us fight the good fight instead: “Observe how much fiercer virtue is in confronting perils than cruelty in imposing them.” (Seneca, Letter 24.5)