Anger hurts, and anger hurts us back. What could possibly be a worse sentiment to carry than anger?
You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger – Buddha
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned – Buddha
Anger hurts, there are few arguments to the contrary in either ancient or modern philosophy. Buddha puts it to us that anger hurts the one carrying the anger. When has anger moved us to a better outcome? True, sometimes throwing anger can give a very temporary feeling of victory or release. Usually to be replaced by regret, loneliness or frustration – maybe we weren’t as angry as we should have been if only I’d… Situations where anger has played its role often bubble around in our minds long after the fact. alternating between a sense of justification and remorse.
Surely every man will want to restrain any impulse towards anger when he realizes that it begins by inflicting harm, firstly, on himself! In the case of those who give full rein to anger and consider it a proof of strength, who think the opportunity for revenge belongs among the great blessings of great fortune, do you not, then, want me to point out to them that a man who is the prisoner of his own anger, so far from being powerful, cannot even be called free? – Seneca
What could possibly be worse than anger? Anger plus disgust creates contempt. Contempt is a much more corrosive feeling than anger. I was recently introduced to this concept while listening to Arthur Brooks. So what is contempt? Contempt can be described as holding the belief that someone (or a group) are worthless or not worthy of their own opinion or place. Contempt can sneak up on you and often arises from a historical interaction where you still hold the feeling of injustice or unfairness. A feeling of disdain when they speak, rolling of eyes or irritability at them interrupting your time are key signs.
Contempt seems to be growing, a growing feeling of tribalism and ‘othering’ is often seen in politics and social media. Media outlets love tribalism and othering, these divisions create clicks and comments at an alarming rate, the up-votes and re-sharing creating the perception of unity in belief and more importantly the worthlessness and ‘stupidity’ of those not holding the same values or beliefs.
In a recent podcast, Arthur Brooks mentions that signs of contempt within a relationship are a great predictor of the future collapse of the relationship. Anger can we worked through, healthy disagreement is an indicator of a good relationship – it would be dull if we passively agreed to everything or tolerated one another. Contempt on the other-hand signals you feel no value in the other person or their opinions.
If we recognize the signs of holding contempt how are we to move forward? It seems it requires a good dose of awareness to counter contempt. The Dalai Lama (exiled from his home country) would say warm-heartedness. How would we do this practically? If you have a meditation habit, the practice of meta or loving-kindness is a fantastic way and its not as squirmy as you think. If you aren’t into meditation, then another approach is to use a daily gratitude routine and be grateful of at least one good thing the target of your contempt has done. That good thing needn’t be directed towards you and it may start off as trivial as them remembering to close the toilet lid or saying ‘how are you’ when you arrived at work. The trick is to re-humanize them in perception you hold in your mind.
Both of those too tricky? There is the ‘fake-it’ method. Your mind doesn’t easily distinguish between fantasy and reality, this can be used to your advantage. Faking compassion, concern and interest can over time change your emotional reactions to the person. The trick is you need to be a great-faker – now there’s a challenge! Meta and faking-it to my mind are closely related in that both are creating patterns and links of positive emotion towards whoever you feel contempt.
For anyone considering the meta approach, the technique is pretty simple, as always there are various options on the details. So feel free to bend the rules a little to your own comfort level.
Meta starts with yourself. Ready yourself for meditation.
Step 1: Holding your thoughts towards yourself repeat several times: ‘May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be content’
Step 2: Hold your thoughts towards a close loved one (family, friend etc.) and repeat several times: ‘May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be content’
Step 3: You may need to build up to this by first holding a stranger or someone for whom you hold neutral feelings towards before moving onto the target of your contempt Hold that person in mind and repeat several times: ‘May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be content’
Meta to my mind works best when you ‘grease the groove’, that is practice it for fairly short, but regular intervals, several times a day for just a minute or two each time seems very effective.
Good luck with your contempt and please share your stories and progress in the comments below!
Want to know more about the insightful Social Scientist Arthur Brooks? Check his latest material here
Finally a final word from Zeno
Well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing – Zeno