“It is much safer to be feared than loved …for love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails..”
― Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
The quote is taken from Machiavelli’s book The Prince, advice written in the early 1500’s and dedicated to the then governor of Florence, Italy as he tried to win his way back into politics. Though written for a ruler, it has infected its way into modern culture as advice for getting through the day. The treatise is noted for its separation of politics and ethics, looking at the practicality of politics in a give and take world rather than through the lens of any idealistic virtues. While this can be argued to our detriment in politics, in day to day living for you and me, it can be devastating.
For me, I have moved through this philosophy as I tried to make my way in a world where anger seemed to be the easiest means to both getting things done, and being left alone. Learning techniques to manage my anger has been more about changing my philosophy on life than learning methods of constructively releasing pent up negative energy.
I work as a cook for the western canteen in Amritapuri, India. There are normally more than 1000 westerners visiting here and many eat at our Western Canteen. They all come with their home preferences. It is an international community so we more than likely don’t have the spices and vegetables that they are accustomed to. And, even when people are from the same country they often have vastly different food partialities.
Being that I’m the cook, everybody tells me their likes and dislikes. “Too much salt.” “Too little salt.” “I want plain food.” “I want the taste to explode in my mouth when I eat it.” “I want greens.” “I want beans.” “I need protein.” “You’re killing me with the onions.” “You’re killing me with the garlic.” “I’ll die if I eat ginger.” “Ginger is good for you.” “Garlic is a cure all.” “Why is there no spice at all?” “Why is it so spicy?” “Your food combinations are all wrong, I hate this meal.” “I love this meal.”
When people tell me that they liked something, I immediately translate, “I like today’s food,” into “I hated yesterday’s meal.” People tell me their likes and dislikes as if it wasn’t anything, but with every complaint I hear, I have a physical reaction to it as it constantly turns over in my head. They will make a joke about their complaint but I will be filled with anger. They will make suggestions as if they’re geniuses telling me something as if I’d never heard it before, not realizing that I hear both their argument and the counter argument a few times a day, every day.
So what should I do? There was a time in my life when no one would dare to even tell me these kinds of things. I used to be the kind of person that would immediately start yelling back at them, without control, whatever it was that I thought about them. I would make people regret having talked to me so that the word would get out that I was not to be messed with. In those days I was choosing fear over love.
Nowadays, I have more subtle ways of dealing with my anger. My main coping mechanism is to make grunting noises. All day I have weird, “ohhhs,” and “dididy dididy dup,” sounds emanating from my mouth. I don’t always hear them coming out but then realize from people’s reactions that I’m making the noises out loud.
I actually learned this technique while working at an old folk’s home. In my late-twenties, I worked three jobs a day. Yes that’s two full time and one part time, or 20 hours a day. It was crazy. At any rate, I worked the day shift at the old folks home and the evening shift at Big Lots. While at Big Lots, as disrespectful as it may sound, I used to make fun of how the old people would go on and on about whatever was going through their heads. I would hear, “Johnny, Johnny is that you Johnny?” all day. They were often stuck in a moment from the past and were reliving it over and over again. Or they would be yelling, “I need to go to the bathroom, right now! Right now or I’m going to go on the floor! OK I’m going on the floor!” There would always be a nice syncopated groaning that went along with their complaining. That groaning I would love to imitate. But at some point in my imitation it actually became a part of my own character. Now, rolling into 40 years of age, I’m already making old people sounds. (Let this be a lesson to everyone – you are what you emulate!)
At any rate, the noises are a bit like opening a drip faucet and letting the anger seep out of me. But really, my main technique is to go to my room, put the headphones on and tell everyone in my head, who pissed me off, what I really think of them. It’s quite relaxing actually and releases the tension without causing harm to others.
But this change in the way that I deal with anger is only part of the solution. My main practice is changing the philosophy that I live by. Before, when I used to fly off the handle, I used to glorify anger. When you listen to people like Tupac quoting Machiavelli, “It’s better to be feared than loved,” then it is easy to go into a mindset where you think anger and fear are manly. There were definitely many years where people were very wary to get on my bad side. But how long can we live like this?
A life based on fear is not satisfying, because in the end we are not Kings and Queens, Princes and Princess, and are gaining nothing by pushing others away. We are not rulers we are just trying to get by. But then what is living? In the end what we want is to love and be loved. And this starts with our attitude towards the world and towards ourselves. Embracing love over fear may mean that we have to listen to more complaints than we want to hear. If we listen, we have the chance for a meaningful interaction and relationship. If we rage and instill fear, we just push people away. We are walking this world together so we might as well try working “together” at it.
Written for Dungeon Prompts: Anger Management
Featured art via http://www.mi9.com/wallpaper/lonely-king-wallpaper_13966/