America Has an Anger Problem

Angry_tigerIn the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, I mused on my Facebook page about the bully aspect to this story. One person rightly commented that we don’t just have a gun problem in America. We also have bullying and anger problems, ones that we’re neglecting in commentary about violence.

So why aren’t we having a national conversation about anger? Where is the call to change the bullying atmosphere not only in our schools but also in our public discourse? Those who think our gun problem is more a result of media glorification of gun violence than it is about how we regulate gun ownership, should take a quick turn around cable new shows for a glimpse of how displays of anger have become accepted and embraced as a political techniques, and how our examples of hot tempers and uncontrolled vitriol have impacted our so-called conversation.

Anger and fear over whether the government is going to take away guns.

Anger and fear in the form of political movements.

Anger and fear that invades, or precludes, governing.

Anger and fear have clearly been the motivating factors behind the so-called fiscal cliff debacle.

Google the phrase “politicians yelling at each other” and see if you have the time to sift through almost ten million hits.

Plenty of us focus on being better communicators for a living. And there are myriad online tools for that. So how have we gotten to a place where so many people believe the only way to advance their cause is to use the least effective methods — shouting, yelling, screaming with anger?

How did we become America the self-righteous?

As adults, it’s bad enough to have to sift through the screaming rhetoric to find the actual takeaways. But by allowing ourselves to give in to the “he or she who shouts the loudest and longest wins” approach and when bullying and name-calling pass for political analysis, we have to ask — “What lessons are we giving our kids?”

Does anyone think that watching Capitol Hill teaches our children anything other than the idea that no one should ever give in, and that it’s productive to call the others names, yell louder, not back down, and that compromise is for the weak?

We are surrounded by anger just as much as we are surrounded by guns. As we have seen time and time again, those don’t make a winning combination.

Anger can become all-consuming. As a kid, I got angry a lot. As a teenager, I realized one day it didn’t feel good to be angry all the time, and tried to figure out ways to better deal with situations that made me mad. I’m glad I didn’t grow up in today’s online world, because the anger and bullying are overwhelming, just as they are becoming overwhelming in the world as it’s presented to us as news.

There’s apparently so much anger among adolescents that it has its own diagnosis — Intermittent Explosive Disorder, “a syndrome characterized by persistent uncontrollable anger attacks not accounted for by other disorders.” Sounds like Capitol Hill might need a support group for that.

I do believe there needs to be a sea change in how we think about guns and how they’re sold and regulated. Not to mention bullets. But looking at the almost daily occurrences of violence should make us just as concerned about helping our kids learn as early as possible how to manage their anger and anxiety in more productive ways. Obviously, most of us who go through anxious times aren’t going to go on a shooting rampage. But we live in a society where anger and obstructionism are portrayed as the norm, and that fomenting public anxiety is the preferred political tool for making any argument. It’s time to look at that leadership dynamic, and not just movies and video games, to figure out why and how we’ve created an America where anger is our default reaction, rather than a last resort.

Image via Wikimedia Commons & CC license/Guyon Moree

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