From Whence Cometh The Rage?

Posted on December 19, 2010

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The news this week, as every week,  is full of stories about people venting their rage against their fellow-man.  An individual walked into a school board meeting, drew graffiti  on the wall and then pulled a gun and shot at school board members from point-blank range. We hear of road rage with people taking shots at other drivers.  Turn on the radio or TV and someone is ranting and raving at one thing or another. Talk shows have devolved into the equivalent of a food fight.  It seems as if every one is not just mad at people and the world, but absolutely enraged to the point of apoplexy.   Where does all this rage come from, have people simply lost their senses?   The Roman philosopher Seneca, a Stoic, believed that anger was not from an uncontrollable eruption of the passions but from a basic error of reasoning. Seneca said that what makes people angry is a dangerously optimistic  idea of what the world and other people are like. How we  react to frustration is largely determined by what we perceive to be normal. We may be frustrated by the weather, but we aren’t likely to go into a rage about it.  So Seneca concluded that we should disappoint ourselves completely before life has a chance to do it for us.  An updated view of his thinking would be Murphy’s Law of which I have always been an ardent proponent.  I usually expect the worst of people and the world so I’m neither surprised nor enraged when my expectations are realized.   On a positive note however, when things do evolve in a more pleasant manner than I was expecting,  the elation is just enormous.

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