Anger Only Knows One Target

I got back into Munich from Kuala Lumpur in good spirits. I had timed my flight perfectly and basically started my day at 7 AM on six hours of sleep. Not bad for someone who’s notoriously bad at sleeping — especially on planes.

My to-do list had been long before I left, and it was only longer now, but I was excited to tackle all the projects and writing that were waiting for me. Between some recovery, unpacking, getting a handle on my laundry, showering, the red tape in the mail, and ordering new light bulbs, however, it didn’t exactly end up being my most productive day.

I finally ordered groceries at around 5 PM, and then, misery crept in. I couldn’t find a coupon. I ended up paying almost 50 bucks for 20 items. Plus, the delivery took forever, and when the driver arrived, he took longer still to find my building. Almost an hour later, the doorbell finally rang.

I was still entirely lost in my grumpiness when I opened the door, but as soon as I did, my anger went away. Standing in the hallway was an Indian man in his 40s. He didn’t speak German, but he was friendly, and he smiled. He handed me my bags and went on his way.

Immediately, I felt stupid for being so self-obsessed. My grocery service uses bikes to deliver. It must be cold outside, driving around in the dark. Maybe my driver had just moved here and didn’t know his way around yet. He must have struggled to find my apartment which, given it is located in a hotel, can indeed be tricky to make out. I, meanwhile, can afford to drop 50 bucks on groceries that might elsewhere cost only 30, simply to have them delivered and get one thing off my plate.

When my irritation so quickly gave way to sympathy, I realized something: Anger only ever knows one target. It is ourselves that it comes back to. Always. We are the ones who lose. Others might suffer too because, in our anger, we might make them, but in the end, anger is not out to get anyone else. Anger is coming for us.

In this case, I was angry at myself for not making more of my day. I wasn’t as focused as I could have been. I got overwhelmed by the many things I had to do in many different areas. But what did I expect? To hop off a plane after a 16-hour trip and just continue business as usual post a two-week phase of intense travel? Didn’t I specifically plan to arrive on a Friday so I could take the weekend off and recharge, then come out swinging on Monday? Why the rush? Why punish myself?

Anger is often another emotion in disguise. It could be sadness, loneliness, or fear. Whatever its origin, that’s what we need to identify. What lies behind the anger? Why is it trying to distract you? Once we regain our composure, if only so briefly, we can try and figure out what our anger is really pointing at.

Usually, the more inclined you feel to dish out blame to other people, the more important and painful the underlying issue is. Dig deep. Find that issue. As soon as you do, your anger will disappear. You’ve now got a bigger fish to fry.

Anger only knows one target, and it is extremely efficient at clouding our thinking. Often, it’ll take someone else to snap us out of it, so whenever that someone else appears, let’s not waste our chance. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and remember: Your delivery driver is struggling just as much as you do or more, so when he smiles, there is no reason to be angry — and you can both still have a good day.