Anger Management experts have a saying: "The only thing between you and the unemployment line is one angry shit taken on the boss's desk."
Which is to say, getting pissed off at the wrong time can ruin our life. But stopping a good rage once it starts is sometimes like trying to reverse a lava flow by farting it back up the volcano. This is especially true on the Internet, where a lack of consequences mean "anger management" isn't even a thing. People often won't bother to email or comment unless something pissed them off (this is why I don't read article comments, here or anywhere) and once they do, they feel the need to crank up the anger to 10.
So, as a public service, I offer the Internet some anger management tips (from terrible personal experience) that might save you many awkward apologies later.
Pick Your Battles (aka Don't Look for Reasons to Get Pissed Off)
Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip, Dilbert, recently found himself in the middle of a self-created Internet shitstorm.
It started when he blogged about how men are basically enslaved by women, and in the process compared all females to 4-year-olds. After some outrage and debate about whether or not he was joking, he deleted the post. Feel free to read the comments on that page. I'm sure they're well thought out, calm and insightful.
But the text of the post was saved and passed around to feminist websites, and from then on it was an anger fist-a-thon, and everybody brought spiked gloves. Adams attacked the feminists, saying that they were too stupid to understand his message in the first place. He said it all came down to poor reading comprehension, presumably by their inferior woman-brains. He then created multiple accounts under fake names, trolling around comment sections defending his point of view ... because nobody else was going to.
When it was all done, he posted again and excused his actions by falling back on that old go-to defense of, "It was all just a social experiment, and you all fell right into my trap! It's too complicated to understand, so just trust me when I tell you that it all went exactly as I had planned." At any point he could have resolved it by simply clarifying what he meant, or even apologizing to those he offended. But his anger wouldn't let him. No matter how big of a clusterfuck the situation turned into, he just could not let those mean people win.
What Did They Do Wrong?
Psychologists talk about avoidance as an anger management technique, meaning if the dipshit down the hall pisses you off every time you talk to him, then how about not fucking talking to him. But in my experience, running into the dipshit doesn't happen by accident. We actually intentionally seek out situations that piss us off. Why? Because we like to get angry. It's why the news media manufactures stories designed purely to whip their readers into a frenzy.
Think about it --it wasn't enough for Adams (a no-doubt wealthy cartoonist with a very busy schedule) to know that some people disagreed with him. No, he had to go hunt down each of those blogs, read every single word and then stir up shit in their comment sections.
This is exactly how I imagine the whole ordeal.
Recently, I wrote an article about how life gets better as you get older, and on the whole, the response couldn't have been nicer. I got hundreds of positive emails. Yet, the two emails I can quote word-for-word were the two from people who were being assholes.
I fired off a passive-aggressive response to one before I recognized how stupid it was. I handled the other by deleting the email and making myself a homemade chocolate milkshake, but there was no taking back that first response -- I had already let my anger get the best of me.
It made me grow dreadlocks and take up soccer.
I tried to justify my actions, the same as Adams did. "This guy is wallowing in self misery! He needs me to slap some reality into his" -- bullshit. I was pissed off, and I wanted to give him a subtle "go fuck yourself." And it only happened because I went out of my way to focus on the tiny fraction of emails that I knew would piss me off.
Recognize When You're About to Do Something Stupid
Here is the cautionary tale of a not-at-all psychotic man who decided 12 years after his relationship with a woman named "Joelle" ended, to send her harassing emails, faxes and start a social Internet group called "The Anti-Joelle Fan Club." He even went as far as sending false background information about her to her coworkers, and eventually emailed them all porn, making it appear that it came from his victim's email.
I want to point out that I am not an anger management expert or a trained therapist. I'm just a guy with a lot of years struggling to control my own fits of rage. But in my opinion, that was the wrong way to handle the situation.
What I'm saying is that there's nothing wrong with a good, old-fashioned stalking.
In fact, his online rampage is going to cost him over $12,000 in restitution and another 500 hours of community service. Not that it would be any better if he had stayed within the law -- living in that state of nonstop rage also means living with depression, hypertension, high blood pressure and a burning case of "fuck everything in the entire world."
What Did They Do Wrong?
When people hear about "anger management" they think this means magically never getting angry, like Ned Flanders. But that dude's problem wasn't that he got upset at Joelle. It was the months-long stalking and porn mailing campaign. That's the thing, anger is a natural survival technique, and so is expressing it. It's nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the experts at that link point out that failing to let anger out is also bad for you -- we all have the dick friend who goes quiet when he or she is mad about something, nursing it for weeks or months. And think about our psychopath above -- that guy sat on his anger for years before he went nuts.
Before he became the dick-shaped bread of society.
The difference, according to the people who study this sort of thing, is recognizing whether your reaction is designed to actually help you fix the thing you're mad about, or just satisfying the adrenaline and dopamine rush you get from lashing out (the latter, after all, is what makes anger so addictive).
Recently, I had some major problems getting my Internet set up, which was devastating because I make my living online. Around the 20th time I had to call and ask about service, I lost my shit. I yelled and cursed and all I could think about was spin-kicking anyone from that company until they caught fire from boot friction. And after I hung up, I felt pretty damned good.
I can't speak for how the girl reacted.
But that didn't accomplish a fucking thing. The woman on the other end of that conversation was some minimum wage customer support drone in a cubicle, who had no power to do anything other than wait for me to get to the top of the waiting list for service. Mailing porn to her family would have been even more counterproductive. I knew that before I picked up the phone, and I also knew that picking up the phone was creating an 80 percent chance I was going to blow up and start shouting fuck words. The key is to pause for just the few seconds it takes to ask, "Is what I'm about to do going to actually help fix this situation? Or is it just going to give me the reputation as the crazy customer no one wants to deal with?"