Fundamental to Stoicism is the idea that our negative or excessive emotions do us more harm than good; that includes the “good” emotions if they are immoderately felt or indulged. Regarding the negative emotions, anger concerned Seneca probably more than any of the others, given that he analyzed and wrote about it particularly at great length. He refuted the idea that anger at times has a useful purpose, such as spurring us to action or giving us a sense of courage. He concluded from his exploration of the topic that it was never beneficial to let anger overwhelm reason.
I know what Seneca wrote and I completely agree, so I have to ask myself why I keep indulging my anger in situations where I have calculated that I can get angry, express it, and not suffer any consequences. Oh boy! Here is a situation where I can really let loose without any else knowing, without losing a friend, alienating a family member, ruining a business deal, being barred from an establishment, or so on in a list of consequences that would make me forego a gleeful vituperative tirade. As I write that, I sound like a rather ill-humored hand grenade. I am to an extent and that personality trait, along with other faults, makes me a prime candidate for Stoicism, which has helped me enormously identify the problem and remedy it.
Upon due reflection, the idea that I can unleash my anger in certain circumstances without negative consequences is a fallacy that overlooks the cost to myself in several ways. For one, the act itself undermines the development of the practice of resorting to reason rather than emotion. The more I make exceptions, the more I will deviate from the Stoicism that I know makes my life better. Like all selfishly indulged exceptions, too many exceptions, and they will take on a life of their own. More importantly, during every episode of anger indulgence I realize there is indeed a cost to me. Feeling angry is not a good sensation; it lingers and occupies my mind. Even if I am not exactly feeling guilty about the slip, anger is in and of itself such a detrimental emotion that it takes a toll for some period of time, sometimes several days. Last, I have made a bad bargain between myself and that other person. I have handed over to another person control of my state of mind; that person, whom I don’t even want in the car, I have placed in the driver’s seat.
In honor of Stoic Week, conceived of by Patrick Usher at Exeter University, I am going to make my pledge to quit making this insidious exception. Reason should never be pushed to the side.