Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Upside of Anger

Karen, Lyndsay, Jan and I ran Hamilton’s Road 2 Hope Marathon just over a week ago. Getting together for a debriefing of our running experience, we enjoyed breakfast.
It was a marathon of many firsts. Jan was the first to prove that you can actually finish a marathon in good time without much training (due to an injury, not choice). Lyndsay was the first to employ a new  very high tech motivational technique that I could see future Olympians using. While in the latter half of the race her sister Jessica ran beside her with an iphone, allowing Lyndsay’s other bed-ridden very pregnant sister Krista to cheer her on via video-conferencing and push her to keep going when she wanted to quit. And, of course Karen brought in a few first of her own. She was first of us women to finish under 4 hours but in my opinion, her most impressive first was to be the first of us to throw up on course (yay Karen!). I am a little jealous, actually. I think this esteemed position should have belonged to me as when it comes to running and upchucking, I feel  am somewhat of a champion. I am going to take a leaf from her book and possibly give this strategy a go next time--maybe if Iose my cookies during a race, I won’t need to during the after party!
Then, the topic of race anger emerged. And, when it comes to road rage, apparently Lyndsay is Queen.  It is sometimes hard for me to take her seriously--although I know she is serious--because she is the sweetest person alive. However, when she expresses anger, it is like seeing a three year old decked out in a skull and cross-bones bandana. You know it is a skull and cross-bones bandana, but somehow it just looks cute on a sweet innocent child.
As Lyndsay recounted her various pet peeves while running, one seemed to stand out. When she is in the upper kilometers of a marathon, the smell of body odour puts her into a rage. Unfortunately, body odour after running 30 kilometers is pretty much a given. So, needless to say, I am glad I wasn’t next to her for that part of her run!
I’ve found that I’ve been experiencing more than my usual dose of anger lately. It is with great hesitation and trepidation that I share this story. Please don’t judge too harshly. People who live in glass houses and he without sin and all that…
I was having a bad day to start with. But, I was running and running fast. I was pushing the limits and putting my soul into each step during a neighbourhood run when I ran by a large, scary motley gang of juvenile hoodlums. (Okay, it was a small group of what looked to be three clean cut twelve year old school boys.) They decided it would be fun to jeer out chants and screams of “Run, run, run…oooh, look at her go. Run faster.” The words sounded innocent enough but their tone was evil. I’m going to let you in on a secret. People who run do not want you to comment. And, by the way “Run Forrest, Run” is not funny, clever, new or remotely cool. It is just annoying.
What happened next is embarrassing and possibly a new base level to my existence. I am not proud. And, when I tell you, you will be shocked. Or, at least I hope you will be shocked. I shocked myself.
The flock of boys caught me on the wrong day. I sized them up. Judging by the general rotund nature of their physique, the velocity with which I was travelling, the fact that I was about to go downhill and, upon first glance, they didn’t look to be armed I made a snap judgement call. A bad one, but a judgement call all the same. They looked like the only exercise they got was picking on smaller children or tormenting toads, I figured I could easily outrun them.
Now, I should preface this event with some background. For 15 years I was a teacher. An elementary school teacher. In fact, for the most part I taught twelve year olds. I prided myself with being calm, level headed and nurturing. And, in 1994 I was even honoured with an award called the “Award of Excellence” where I was nominated by my peers for my classroom, school and community contributions to society. Ha! If they could see me know I’m sure they’d ask for it back.
It’s a good thing that I am no longer a paying member of the Ontario College of Teachers, because I am pretty sure I would have been stripped of my membership.
With one fatal motion, I raised my hand high right after passing the boys and then I gave them a gesture. Not a nice gesture. In fact, a rather rude gesture. A gesture that would have sent me to the principal’s office had I been twelve years old instead of someone who was thirty four years their senior and should know a whole lot better. This was a new level of low.
It was the fuel that ignited the intensity and volume of their jeers. I remember hearing myself speak to myself over the blaring of my ipod, “I can’t believe I just did that.”
Then, about a week later there was the whole de-friending incident on facebook. One of my ‘friends’, an American (that alone should say it all) was quite hyped up about their election and was constantly posting rather opinionated political comments and links. I am not particular political and generally don’t get involved in debating or bashing. I do have my personal opinions but I attempt to stay respectful. To me, argument for argument’s sake is simply an ego feeding food that never satisfies. It is like high fructose corn syrup; feels good at the time, but just leaves you wanting more.
But, once again, that demon anger raised its head and I engaged against my better judgement. Unhappy with an article in The National Post my ‘friend’ commented that Canadians shouldn’t comment on U.S. politics and should stick to what they do best, hockey and maple syrup.
How wrong could that statement be? Doesn’t she know anything? We don’t do hockey well, we’re on strike.
I felt like a mouse looking at the cheese. It looks so good but you know as soon as you sink your teeth in it’s a trap. Did it any way. It went something like this:
     Me: Peter Jennings was a Canadian.
     Random Other American: Peter Who?
     I thought he was being sarcastic. He truly can’t be this uninformed
     Me: Not cool.
     Random Other American: Didn’t recognize the name.
     I realize now the dude is serious. He’s never heard of Peter Jennings. I see in his profile he is in the U.S. military. Oh boy.
     Me: link to Peter Jennings in Wikipedia
     Random Other American: Sorry, didn’t know who he was.
     Me:  Well, he was one of the most well-known U.S. political news anchors and he was born in Toronto…but what do I know. I’m just a Canadian commenting on U.S. politics.
My momentary high came crashing down when I realized what I wrote. Why was I engaging in this conversation? I deleted all my posts, sent a quick note to my ‘friend’ respectfully explaining that I did not wish to use facebook as a political platform, wished her love and then defriended her.
Why was I experiencing so much anger? I kept thinking about anger because I couldn’t see any upside to it. Why do we experience such an devastating emotion? Why does it exist? This past week I’ve been oozing, sweating it out with every breath. It seems to be so negative. It eats at my stomach, consumes my thoughts and makes me feel horrible.
Then, one possible answer came to me when most good things come to me, on a run.  I don’t believe we are meant to live with anger. However, to everything there is a season and a purpose under the sun. And, I believe it exists for a reason and that reason is a temporary flag.
I came to the conclusion that anger is a bridge, a warning signal, a flashing yellow light, a transition emotion. I think it exists to get us to pay attention and let us know we need to deal with something. It is necessary to help us prioritize what requires attention immediately. It is the emotional equivalent to bleeding. As long as you have breath and a heart beat, the next order of first aid is to stop the bleeding. You can't live with profuse bleeding forever. It has to be curbed.
For me, anger doesn’t just dissipate all by itself. I can try to ignore it and simply replace it with happy thoughts but it bubbles up in the most inopportune times and then innocent children or facebook friends suffer…I don’t like feeling angry. In fact, I find it quite yucky (that is the psychological word for it). So, how can I get rid of this nasty, horrible emotion? Sometimes it feels as complicated as defusing a bomb…until I went for a run.
The way I see it, there are only 2 possible reactions. It may be over simplified, but I’m a simple person.
One reaction to anger is to view it as a call to arms and fight whatever you are angry with. But, this doesn’t make sense because you are just perpetuating an enemy…which in turn breeds more anger.  You have to be angry to fight and fighting makes you angry.
The alternate reaction is to accept whatever you are angry with and take action by focussing on the world of possibilities. As far as I can tell this is the only way to transition from anger to someplace new.
There are all these angry campaigns to fight war, discrimination, crime, terrorism, famine, heart disease and cancer. Instead, how about a call to see war, discrimination, crime, terrorism, heart disease and cancer as it is, then envision and focus on the great possibilities of peace, inclusion, kindness, tolerance, health and abundance.
Accept what is, and put your energy toward all the best possible outcomes. Because isn’t that what life is, possibilities? As far as I can tell, at least from how I see things today, this is the only upside to anger.


  1. I really enjoyed your post. It was thoughtful and humorous. I look forward to reading more.

    Orlando, FL

  2. Thank you for your comment Debra and thank you for taking the time to read.