4 Anger Management Tips the Internet Could Really Use
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?"
You Can Argue Without Getting Ugly
There was an Internet controversy recently when the new Duke Nukem game came out, after having gotten delayed for 37 years or so. The game got fairly bad reviews, but, you know, that happens. Not everybody is going to like everything. But those reviews made Jim Redner angry.
Wait, who's Jim Redner? He's a public relations guy, and one of his clients was 2K Games, the makers of DNF. Well, he was. He was recently fired because after reading the onslaught of "venomous" reviews, he got on Twitter and ...
... fucking blacklisted bitches!
In other words, he got pissed off because everyone was hard on the game, and instead of confronting them about why he felt they were being treated unfairly, he decided to punish them by making it so they couldn't review 2K's games any more (or at least, not with advance copies so that the reviews are up when the game hits shelves). And for that, he lost his client.
What Did They Do Wrong?
The thing to note here is how many steps down the line Jim could have gone and still kept his job. Reading the reviews, taking them personally, even up to the point of getting angry -- all fine. In fact, if he'd taken to Twitter and just said, "Some of these reviews are really unfair, guys," he'd have kept his job. The difference between acceptable and unacceptable here was all in how he chose to approach the conflict. It all seems to come down to whether you're looking for peace or victory.
Yeah, that's what I thought, corpse. I win again.
I remember vicious arguments I got into with my ex-wife, for the same reasons as Mr. Redner (in fact, I bet 80 percent of couples arguments start this way) -- it started with a simple criticism, said in a hostile tone of voice. As it turns out, simple inflections in tone or the slightest phrasing problem can have that effect. I felt attacked, and I responded by verbally swinging back. It didn't much matter what I said, as long as I "won" the argument. It sure as fuck wasn't about trying to reach some understanding or compromise.
And there's the constant problem. Once you treat it like a war, then everything you say is calculated, not to do what words are supposed to do (that is, convey information) but to beat the other person down. You push their buttons, you go right for what you know are their emotional weaknesses. Why did Mr. Redner talk about pulling advance copies from reviewers? Because that was the only source of power he had over them -- it was the only card he could play that would let him "win." This is why, in an argument with your boyfriend or girlfriend, they'll pull out some incident from six months ago ("I'm not the one who pulled out his dick at Olive Garden!") that should have no relevance to what you're talking about. It's just ammunition, meant to intimidate the other person into submission.
"No, I totally agree -- you have a good point there."
And if that doesn't work, what do they do? Say it louder. Much, much louder. You turn the talking into a physical act, hoping the sheer, scary volume and tone will make the other person back down. You turn into a dog barking at passing kids keep them out of the yard.
So, the point isn't that you should never have confrontations -- you constantly hear that arguing is actually good for a relationship. It's that you have to recognize the huge difference between "arguing" by strongly stating your side, and simply trying to bludgeon the other person into silence with brutal slaps from your word-dick.
Related: Why Your City Looks Ugly AF
Think About Other People for One Goddamned Second
If you've ever spent time on an Internet message board, you are familiar with the concept of the Internet Witch Hunt. Basically, some offense is committed by a random stranger -- this can range anywhere from "saying something stupid on YouTube" to "a soldier killing a puppy live on camera" (yes, that happened, Google it). What happens next is the Internet flies into action and digs up the offender's personal information -- home address, phone number, work info -- to see just how much damage can be done in the name of "justice."
It happened when Reddit.com decided a college student raising money for cancer research must be running a scam, and responded by digging up her Facebook page, home address, etc. Suggested means of retribution ranged from reporting her to the FBI, to sending dozens of unwanted pizzas to her house. All of which might've been justified ... had they actually been right about the fraud. Which they weren't.
This happens so often that Reddit admins had to specifically make a rule forbidding it, and have to frequently remind users of the rule.
What Did They Do Wrong?
That's a great example of the splash damage you get from runaway anger. They so badly wanted an excuse to get angry (in the name of "justice") that nobody took much effort to make sure the right person was being targeted. This is why revenge movies are so much fun to watch, half of us secretly hope our kid gets kidnapped so we can go on a rampage like Liam Neeson. But in real life, we're far more likely to just take out a bunch of bystanders instead.
When I was still married, my then-wife came home in a really bad mood, and we ended up getting into an argument over some bullshit that started badly and ended worse. At the time, our kids were playing in the yard, totally unaware of the war that was going on in the kitchen. It ended abruptly when I just decided I'd had enough, and walked away. Nothing was resolved, and in the end, both of us were still fuming.
The universal sign for "Shit's about to get all kinds of slappy up in here."
So later, the kids came inside, and one of them spilled some milk on the carpet. I would normally just tell them to be careful and have them clean it up. But in the state I was in, I jumped all over them. The kids, who had just moments ago been in great moods, became angry in turn, and before we knew it, they were fighting with each other instead of playing. You can see how my inability to keep a lid on it wound up just rippling outward, like the shockwave of an atomic bomb made out of human shit.
This is why a lot of anger management programs have a whole section on empathy. This is the more academic way of saying, "Learn how not to be such a selfish dick and think about how the way you act impacts other people, asshole." If I'd taken one second to remember what it was like when my dad blew up for no reason, it'd have been a hell of a lot easier to slam on the brakes. Shame is a good circuit breaker for anger.
Shame and cupcakes. Oh, shit, I just found a name for my next band!
This all sounds so obvious, but goddamn is it hard to find anyone on the Internet actually exercising this kind of control. We get so wrapped up in the idea that we're right that we can't fathom the idea that maybe we're the dick here.
In fact, let me leave you with this final technique: Grab a post-it note, write down the phrase, "Am I being the dick here?" and stick it to your computer monitor. Or, even better, get it tattooed on your palm. Glance at it every time you're about to reply to an email or article comment, or when you're about to make a call to tech support. See if it helps.