Anger and Acceptance

When it comes to anger, the world is filled with some very simple, but powerful truths. For example: People believe different things, people are very attached to what they believe, and people get upset when others disagree with them. Even “open-minded” people get very upset with their “closed-minded” counterparts. In short, anger abounds, and people are angry because, ultimately, others don’t see things the way they want them to see things or act the way that they want them to act. These truths are pretty self-evident, and they certainly don’t need an academic’s stamp of approval to be observed: anyone who has been around others for any period of time has the ability to see these patterns. 

If not accepting others’ beliefs and actions causes anger, then it seems to follow that acceptance might be the antidote. So how do we begin to accept others for thinking or believing or behaving differently? After all, if acceptance was easy, more people would probably do it, because as experience has taught me, it sure makes life awfully easy. I’m open to learning, and I realize that by the time this article hits the internet, I could have already learned new information that helped me grow and think differently, but as of this writing, here are some experiences I’d like to share with you:

I’ve counseled thousands of people. I’ve obviously heard many, many perspectives on life. I’ve counseled people in solitary confinement of maximum security prisons, I’ve counseled people on television, in private practice, on videotape in counseling centers, in mental health clinics, and in people’s homes. And in all that time, with all that experience, I’ve discovered that people think differently from me and that’s okay. And the reason it’s okay is twofold: First, I am very comfortable with what I believe, so I don’t need others to believe what I do to validate my beliefs; and second, I don’t believe I have all the answers.

I’ve heard conservatives tell liberals that they’re going to be tortured for all of eternity in Hell for having different beliefs. I’ve listened to liberals condescendingly tell conservatives that they are complete morons for not seeing life the same way that they do. I’ve seen people be so attached to their beliefs that they get instantly angry when others see life differently. And why? Why do people get so angry? Well, I believe it comes back to the opening paragraph of this article: Namely, that people have differing beliefs, that they are very attached to those beliefs, and that they get upset when others don’t see things their way.

That sure seems like a circular argument. Actually, I believe it seems like a circular argument because it is (come on now, even if you don’t dabble in philosophical fallacies, you have to admit that this sentence was pretty funny; then again, you can think whatever you want about this sentence).

Life is not complicated. Anger is not complicated. But just because something isn’t complicated doesn’t mean that it’s not difficult – and as anyone with a heartbeat can attest: Life can be difficult. In my opinion, life is not complicated, but it certainly can be difficult (wait, didn’t I just say that?). So what do we do?

We can put our arms straight up overhead and then drop our hands – because life is awesome – and it comes with caveats. But we create the caveats. And we devise the solutions. We implement it all. So the real question is probably not what makes people angry (attachment) or what do we do (act), but what will you do? In other words, armed with the information of attachment and anger, how will you act from this moment forward? Differently? The same? Attached? Nonattached? Angry? Peaceful?

Will you continually need others to believe what you do, or can you accept others for believing differently? Will you get angry when others don’t act the way you want them to or speak the way you desire? Because really, life boils down to this: What can you accept and what will you do?

I can accept you for thinking differently than I do. I can accept that you will do things differently than what I might do. I do accept you, even if you don’t accept me (or my beliefs). I live in the realm of acceptance, and I can tell you that the struggles I experience are very different than the ones that involve needing others to think or feel the way I do. I still struggle at times, because, as I said, just because something isn’t complicated doesn’t mean that it’s not difficult. As an anger management specialist, I just try to maximize the peace I experience.

I hope the same for you.