I’m slowly making my way through an excerpt from Aristotle’s Rhetoric for my class on Rhetorical and Composition Studies. Rhetoric looks at rhetoric and the art of persuasion but tonight the most comforting component had to do with anger.
Anger? Comforting? What the heck are you talking about, Caitlin??
I don’t know about the rest of you but I experience anger a lot. It’s a daily thing and I’m going to let you in on a secret: it happens more than once a day. My latent malice is basically a moment away at any given point in time. In the words of Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk: “That’s my secret, Cap, I’m always angry.”
In Book II of Rhetoric, Aristotle defines anger as “an impulse, accompanied by pain, to a conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight directed without justification towards what concerns oneself or toward what concerns one’s friends” (214).
Aristotle hit the nail on its head. Of course my anger comes as an impulse. Of course it’s a result of inner upset. Of course it demands retribution, often in spite of what is the best thing to do. And, of course, I’m meant to be aware of that nature. This reactionary attitude can be about a slight of any size. I’m often surprised by my own impetuosity when I, for example, don’t get a text back from someone in the time frame I expect. That’s a ridiculous thing to feel slighted by and yet, every time it happens, I feel the urge to come up with an incredibly nasty or aggressive response just to pick a fight. And for no apparent reason other than feeling slighted. . . and it’s hard to not give in to that urge.
So yes, it’s comforting to think about anger tonight. It’s comforting to think about just why I’m upset and how that spiteful side of me wants to start fights. But it’s also comforting to think about what Aristotle has to say next: “growing calm is the opposite of growing angry, and calmness the opposite of anger” (216). Aristotle goes on to look at how anger ceases and how even time can put an end to anger. He doesn’t explicitly talk about mindfulness activities, though I think a modern-day Aristotle would.
Most comforting, however, is the thought that, if I can acknowledge the anger that lurks within me, perhaps I can transform it into calmness.