Anger, and “payback”

In “Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice”, the book based on her 2014 Locke Lectures at Oxford, Martha Nussbaum, the distinguished philosopher with over 60 honorary degrees, who has taught at Harvard, Brown and the University of Chicago, compels us to introspect and acknowledge that a subtle component of anger is “a wish for retributive suffering” — payback in some form — “a wish for the doer to suffer, somehow….”

Anger, Martha tells us, “makes one think that progress will have been made” if the person causing the anger “suffers, when, in reality, this does nothing to solve the real problem. It eats up the personality and makes the person quite unpleasant to be with. It impedes useful introspection.” When “angry thoughts and wishes fill up the mental landscape,” “worthwhile actions” are “impeded.”

Thich Nhat Hanh observes, in “Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames”, that “When someone says or does something that makes us angry, we suffer. We tend to say or do something back to make the other suffer, with the hope that we will suffer less. We think, “I want to punish you, I want to make you suffer because you have made me suffer. And when I see you suffer a lot, I will feel better.”

He goes on. “Many of us are inclined to believe in such a childish practice. The fact is that when you make the other suffer, he will try to find relief by making you suffer more. The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides. Both of you need compassion and help. Neither of you needs punishment.”

The sage teaches: “If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.”

Peace 😊

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