It is obviously hypocracy at its finest to get angry about the fact that others around us are angry, but this is something we do all of the time (or at least, I do). Learning how to constructively relate to the angry people in our life is one of our greatest personal and spiritual challenges. But the need to do so is definite. In this post, I am primarily going to discuss dealing with people who are angry at their lives. In a later post I will discuss how to deal with people who are angry at us.
The first thing we must do is protect ourselves from being swept away by our own anger. Anger is one of the most infectuous diseases which very quickly can spread like wildfire. If we too get swept away by our own anger, any hope of being helpful will evaporate completely. We will become part of the problem, not part of the solution.
So how do we not get angry ourselves when surrounded by angry people? We must first understand the cause of anger, which is, quite simply, wishing things were different. In this context, it is wishing that the people around us weren’t so angry. Many Dharma practitioners know they are “not supposed to get angry”, but they usually just wind up repressing it – either pretending that they are not angry, when in fact they are; or just holding it in. Repression never works. The pressure just builds, our fuse just grows shorter, and eventually we blow. To prevent our own anger, we must stop wishing the people around us weren’t so angry, and instead generate the mind that wouldn’t have it any other way. This obviously doesn’t mean we want others to be deluded, rather it means that for the purposes of our own training, their being deluded is perfect for us. Since we view it as perfect, we let go our attachment to it being different, and as such, we do not ourselves get angry about them being angry.
So how do we do this?
- Accept that this is just how things are. We live in degenerate times in which the people around us will likely grow more and more angry. This is the nature of samsara. Samsara is populated by deluded beings, to expect it to be any different is to not understand the nature of samsara.
- Realize it is a reflection of our own karma and our own mind. I am surrounded by angry people because I have been so angry myself in the past. The world I inhabit is a karmic echo of the world I have created for others in the past with my own anger. If I want this cycle to stop, I need to not get angry myself now.
- View dealing with the angry person as part of your larger training. In Offering to the Spiritual Guide, it says we must strive “for complete enlightenment with unwavering compassion; even if I must remain in the fires of the deepest hell for many aeons for the sake of each being.” We first learn how to constructively relate to the angry people in our life as a training for becoming the courageous bodhisattva who can enter into the deepest hells and lead beings out. Demographically speaking, most of the beings of samsara are either already in or they are en route to the hot hells, which are nothing other than the karmic consequence of angry minds.
- Realize it is not your problem. We must make a distinction between what is their problem and what is our problem. Their problem is their anger towards their life, our problem is our anger towards the fact that they are angry. Our anger tells us that the way to solve our problem is for the other person to stop being angry. So motivated by this, we try to change them. But this just makes things worse. If the other person is angry, that is not my problem, it is their problem. So I shouldn’t let it bother me or become my problem. If other people are angry at their lives, that does not harm me in any way, so their being angry is not my problem.
- Take it as a lesson of what not to do. Everytime we see somebody doing something wrong, such as being angry about their lives, we can view the other person as a skilful teacher showing us what not to do. If we are learning something from what we are observing, we are growing from it, and then it is not a problem for us. Quite simply, we tell ourselves, “I need to not be like that.”
- Generate compassion for them realizing that they are possessed by their anger. Anger is a demon which seizes us quickly and we lose total control. When we are under the influence of anger, for all practical purposes it is as if we have been seized by a demon and we are no longer in control. We say and do and think all sorts of things which just make our situation worse, both in the short term and also for the future as we create the causes for others to get angry at us in the future. Seeing people are possessed by their anger, we can generate compassion for them.
- Not cooperating or going along with their anger. When others are angry, they will harm those around them. Because we don’t want to become the object of their anger, we will often go along with them or cooperate with their harmful wishes. Unless we are in a position to do so, we usually cannot stop others from harming those around them, but we can ourselves choose to not do the same. If others get angry at us for not doing like them, then we can explain why we feel getting angry and harming others will make things worse and so we do not want to do so. They may still get angry at us for not going along with them, but they can never make us actually go along with them. It remains our choice.
- Know when to remove yourself from the presence of the angry person. We should remove ourselves from the presence of angry people when we are not able to keep our own anger under control or when our continued presence implicitly enables the other person getting angry or acts as a de facto approval of their behavior.
All of these things are difficult, but they are all essential parts of our training.