The U.S. House of Representatives recently censured a member for posting an animated video of him killing a rival Rep with a sword. Democrats were angry that the Republican Rep's action would have gotten him fired from any other job. Republicans were angry that their guy was publicly humiliated over “a cartoon.” Similar ire erupted in the Senate in 1991 during the confirmation of a Supreme Court candidate who had possibly sexually harassed co-workers. Columnist Dave Barry, rather than take sides, instead played up the silliness of Senators’ comments, even making some up. For example: “Sen. Strom Thurmond (South Carolina): Soamwhoan ben cudrin’ mheah widm tan' bfust drang. Translator: he says, 'Somebody has colored my hair...with Tang breakfast drink.'”
I prefer my Congresspeople as buffoons rather than angry zealots. Anger has become too pervasive in our society. Besides the increasingly shrill tone of politics, more people feel wronged in life, too. If you feel you’ve been treated unjustly, personal injury attorneys stand ready to win you your rights. Audiences prefer movies where vengeance is satisfied with gunfire rather than mediation. Anger has invaded public health, like when school board meetings are disrupted by yelling, anti-mask parents.
This trend is fueling increasing depression and suicidality in kids. In the Emergency Department, we see bullied children who lash out, threatening to shoot up the school along with the bullies. Usually they don’t really mean it, but they're brought to us to determine how much of a threat they really are. When angry rivals actually begin shooting, innocent kids get caught in the crossfire. I recently cared for a nine-year-old girl who was severely injured by a stray bullet when an attempt at vengeance got out of hand. Dave Barry, where are you now?
Anger is contagious. When I attend sporting events, I'm easily caught up in the us-vs-them mentality, the outraged shouts of underdogs and the derision of rivals and officials. At one UL Lafayette softball game, the crowd was miffed at the umpire’s calls at the plate. Justifying myself that running down the umps is part of the game, I yelled, “Hey ump, my wife thinks you stink!” My wife was mortified, though in my defense, she was muttering choice words about his strike zone. Another fan, joining the silliness, went the next step: “Hey ump, that guy’s wife thinks you stink!”
As we discussed above, anger is becoming our society’s go-to emotion. I see lots of it at work: car crash participants mad at those who hit them (no one we see in the Emergency Department is ever at fault, it's always the other driver). People in the ER get mad at their wait times, mad at other doctors for previous care. Separated parents rage that the other one isn't taking proper care of their child.
The other night, anger between a mother and daughter boiled over. The teen yelled that she'd rather kill herself than live with the mom. In her defense, the mom had spent most of the girl's formative years on drugs, the girl raised by her grandmother. Now that mom was clean the girl suddenly had to live with her again. Mom was mad that the child had a blow up and brought her in not just for her suicidal outburst, but also to “teach her a lesson” that losing her cool could mean psychiatric commitment.
Time for everyone to take it down a notch. Instead of blowing up, put yourself in your adversaries' shoes, see the world from their stress point and forgive. Have a sense of humor. Unless, of course, the ump's strike zone really stinks.