Ancient Guide to Anger Management

Yong Yang
4 min readOct 10, 2021

Two millennia-old advice that are still applicable today

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Almost everyone has felt furious when someone or something disturbs him, after which he finds ways to vent his spleen. Lashing out at any people or object around him, or worse still putting up a fist fight. And this often occurs in friendships.

Worry not.

Ancient Roman Stoic Philosopher Seneca’s De Ira (On Anger) provides valuable insight into anger, an emotion most would however despise, as well as a guide to assuaging it.

We shall explore them in detail below.

1. Be Slow To React

“Delay is the greatest remedy for anger. Ask of your anger, at the outset, not to grant forgiveness but to exercise judgement. Its first impulses are harsh ones; it will relent if it waits. And don’t try to get rid of it all at once; it will be wholly defeated if it is carved away by pieces.”

Humans are by far responsive to environmental influences. Trivial matters get on our nerves unless we are aware of them.

You overheard your colleagues gossiping about someone being reprimanded by his superior, and thought they were referring to you (in fact your manager lamented your poor quality work this morning). But you later discovered that they were talking about another person.

To remedy such situation, bear this in mind: examine the facts thoroughly before judging anything for Seneca opines, “Truth gets shinier the more frequently it is handled.

2. Acknowledge Your Fallibility

“If we want to be fair judges of all matters, let’s convince ourselves first of all of this: none of us is without guilt.”

We are often capable of seeing others’ flaws but not ours. And we allege them for ruining things.

Should others wrong you in the future, take a step back and say this to yourself: I’ve done this myself also.

3. Think Everything Might Happen

“Your greatest fear lies in the same place as your greatest joy. When everything seems serene, the dangers are still present, only sleeping. Always suppose that something offensive to you is going to arise.”

A problem arises when reality does not meet our expectations. We ought to be keeping our minds open as much as setting lofty goals.

Vicissitudes are part and parcel of life. Embracing them will make us more resilient.

4. Stay Foolish

“It is the mark of a great mind to disregard injuries; it’s the most insulting way to take revenge if the man from whom one seeks vengeance doesn’t even seem worth the trouble…By contrast, he is a great and noble person who, like a huge wild animal, listens without concern as the little hunting dogs yap.”

Schools and educators have instilled in children a staunch belief that knowledge is power.

Seneca, however, recommends us to know what needs to be ignored in managing anger. He cited an instance whereby Marcus Cato, a Roman statesman, claimed that he did not remember being bumped after the offender had apologised.

Ignorance is truly a bliss when it comes to emotional control.

5. Associate Yourself with Placid People

“We should spend our time with those who are calmest, most easygoing, and least anxious and depressed, since we take on the natures of our associates…”

Birds of a feather flock together. We shall invest time in appreciating and learning strengths of people with admirable qualities such as tranquillity.

6. Silence Is Golden

“Ask fewer questions. Those who investigate what was said against them, who flush out mean-spirited talk even if it was being kept secret, are themselves the source of their own turmoil.”

Curiosity kills the cat. Words are potentially dangerous, and deadly at times, weapons. They hurt not just others but ourselves too.

7. Nobody Is Immortal

“Fate stands over our heads and counts up our waning days, coming nearer and nearer. That space of time you allot to cause another’s death is perhaps about right for your own.”

I remarked that we usually shower the dead with more praises than those alive in my debut article on COVID-19.

Given we will be carried to the tomb by pallbearers one day, we should invest more time into building rapport with anybody around us rather than squabbling over trifling problems.

The most precious of life is not what is lost, or what we cannot reach for, but what is right under our nose.

Final Thoughts

A justifiable anger never exists.

It is only with patience and wisdom can we control our anger.

“There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heart-burnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”

— Mark Twain

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