The other day someone flipped me off. Gave me the finger. Told me with the gesture of one purposefully selected finger, “Fuck you.” I hadn’t said a word to this person; I hadn’t scowled or sneered; I didn’t cut this person off or stop short. So why me?
Here’s the scene: this person was in front of me at a stop sign, waiting to to pull on to a main road when I must have been noticed in the rear view. I watched as a thoughtful effort was made to roll down the driver’s side window and stick a hand out, finger aloft.
It took me a few seconds to realize that the gesture was directed at me. The fact that there was no one else around to flip off helped me reach that conclusion. But I knew that I hadn’t, by my behavior, done anything to provoke this person whatsoever the other day.
So I had to wonder why this person did this. Once I pinpointed who it was, I realized that this person took the time to give me the finger based on something that is well over two years old. (What most people would consider ancient history.) In addition to being a very dated flipping of the bird, this person simply does not know what happened way back “when” as this person was both peripheral and inconsequential to the matter.
Nevertheless, feeling angry is easy and telling me “fuck you” was likely satisfying.
But for me, my response to the crass and classless act was not anger, as I am familiar with that sage quote about how holding onto anger is like drinking poison in the hopes that the other person dies.
This person’s anger did nothing to negatively affect me. I’m still very much alive.
Though I will admit I did gain something and feel a real appreciation for this extended middle finger: it got me thinking about the root of anger–not just this person’s but across the board.
I have concluded that we have become an impolitic culture of rage.
And I believe I understand why. First off, anger is an easy default emotion. Most of us can go from zero to enraged in a few short seconds. Secondly, it’s deeply satisfying to point the finger of blame (middle or otherwise) for your own out-of-control emotions at someone else by taking the “were it not for your _____, I wouldn’t be so angry” excuse.
But where is this anger rooted?
Primarily, in fear. We lash out in anger in the hopes that this will overshadow our own fear. That our directed anger, the convenient “fuck you” hand signal, will put the other in a position of shared fear having been overwhelmed by the pointed rage.
So over two years later, I have to wonder why the anger, i.e., shrouded fear, remains? Does this person see me as a disruption to what should be a predictable life? Does this person think I have the capacity–or even the interest–in being disruptive? Wouldn’t a prudent person just step away from that which causes such anger? In the case of what occurred the other day, that would have necessitated ignoring me.
Culturally, we put a lot of angry energy into bickering with each other over circumstances we cannot control and upon which we can have no sway. Adult family members go years without speaking over conflicts from their youth. Friends cut each other off over political debates on social media. Colleagues discredit each other when there is a disagreement over the direction of a shared project. The emotion behind the parting of ways is–on the surface–anger. But scrape through the first few layers and you find fear.
And right underneath that fear, you find ignorance.
When someone fails to, or simply is not allowed to, know all the bits and pieces behind the scene, he/she can’t help but to create a backstory riddled with speculation and conjecture. Invariably, the filled-in details depart from truth, and this departure yields fear. Not knowing is frightening, and fear breeds anger.
We think ourselves the experts in all things with the information highway solidly under our feet, but for every assertion of “X” that you might find to endorse your speculations, you’re bound to find “not X” as well. So before you get too comfortable in your chosen echo chamber, you might want to first consider whether your likely-to-manifest anger is really worth feeding.
The other day I was not a victim of anger, the other person was. To that person who continues to reside in a pathetic and irate place, I would suggest to set your anger aside, put the bottle of poison down, and get on with your life.