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Anger is like those ruins
which smash themselves
on what they fall.

– Seneca

Suppose we find that despite our attempts to prevent anger, the behaviour of other people succeeds in angering us. It will help us to overcome our anger, says Seneca, [1] if we remind ourselves that our behaviour also angers other people: “We are bad men living among bad men, and only one thing can calm us – we must agree to go easy on one another.” He also offers anger-management advice that has a parallel in Buddhism. When angry, says Seneca, [2] we should take steps to “turn all [anger’s] indications into their opposites.” We should force ourselves to relax our face, soften our voice, and slow our pace of walking. If we do this, our internal state will soon come to resemble our external state, and our anger, says Seneca, will have dissipated.

Buddhists practice a similar thought-substitution technique. When they are experiencing an unwholesome thought, Buddhists force themselves to think the opposite, and therefore, wholesome thought. [3] If they are experiencing anger, for example, they force themselves to think about love [i.e. loving-kindness]. The claim is that because two opposite thoughts cannot exist in one mind at one time, the wholesome thought will drive out the unwholesome one.

What if we are unable to control our anger? Indeed, what if we find ourselves lashing out at whoever angered us? [4] We should apologize. Doing this can almost instantly repair the social damage our outburst might have caused. It can also benefit us personally: The act of apologizing, besides having a calming effect on us, can prevent us from subsequently obsessing over the thing that made us angry. Finally, apologizing for the outburst can help us become a better person: By admitting our mistakes, we lessen the chance that we will make them again in future.

A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art Of Stoic Joy
William B. Irvine

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