I like to watch volleyball. I especially enjoy a long volley, where one team hits the ball over the net and their opponent immediately returns the volley. In a good volley, this goes on and on, back and forth, over and over. The ball stays in the air. The crowd stays on their feet, and the tension mounts. The volley only ends when one team misses the ball. They fail to strike the ball back over the net. Volleyball is fun to watch and even more, fun to play.
But I don’t want to talk about volleyball. I want to talk about anger. I see some similarities between the two and I’ll bet you will, too. Anger acts in much the same way as the ball in a good volleyball match-up. A word of anger sails over the net and is quickly answered by an angry response. Not to be outdone, the serving team scrambles in defense of the returning ball and together manages to punch it back over the net.
During the “anger volley,” the crowd watches. They cheer in hopes that the volley/verbal battle will continue. They celebrate the anger. The escalating “anger volley” continues until one side or the other cannot successfully strike back. Either they are beaten down by their opponent’s wrath, they simply give up out of frustration, or run out of time because of a commercial break. Who wins? No one. We all lose.
Anger from fear
Ask any psychologist and they’ll tell you that anger is seldom a primary emotion. Much of the anger we see and experience today comes from fear. Angry people are often afraid of losing: losing control, losing something, or losing their identity. When we become afraid, anger is often our go-to response.
An example of anger in the campground
Your camping neighbor has a dog leashed to a stake outside their rig. The dog barks continuously. You have no control over the barking. You may be afraid that the barking dog will ruin your camping experience. Or you might fear that your sleeping baby will wake up because of the noise. Whatever. So, you stomp over to the neighbor’s RV, angrily pound on her door, and loudly demand that she put a stop to the noise. Now!
You’ve just set the “anger volley” in motion. Your neighbor, seeing your outrage, doesn’t want to lose face, so she shouts right back at you. She may be embarrassed at her negligence. She might be afraid that you’ll report her to the camp hosts. Whatever. Her feelings of embarrassment or fear cause her to angrily shout back at you. And the campground watches. Some folks may even insert themselves into the situation. And the sad thing is that none of this needed to happen.
Should you put up with a barking dog? No. But if the dog is making you angry, think about why. Take a few deep breaths. (Deep breaths are not hocus-pocus! Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from your brainstem to your abdomen. The vagus nerve activates a relaxation response in your nervous system to calm you.) Think about a polite way of approaching your neighbor, and when you’re calm, go over and talk about it.
I can already imagine your reaction to reading this. Why me?! Why should I be the voice of reason!? The dog’s barking ticks me off! (I know. I’ve been there, too.) But look at your options. Approaching a problem with anger will almost always result in escalating the angst. Isn’t a calm approach a better first step? Isn’t it worth a try, at least?
The anger so prevalent in our country today didn’t rise out of thin air. One “anger volley” after another, and another, and another, built up until now anger is the go-to response to virtually anything that happens.
Compromise? Heck, no! And while expressing anger may initially cover up our underlying fears, and make us feel powerful in the moment, it can become a habit. Soon, everything makes us angry: a rainy day, a slow driver, a burnt steak, a person with an opinion different from ours, a camper’s dog. And just who wants to spend time with an angry and continually upset person? Not me. Probably not you, either.
To be clear, anger in itself isn’t bad. It’s a real feeling—an emotion, like the emotions of happiness or worry. The problem is that often when we’re angry, we say or do things that can bring real trouble to a situation! Actions and words fueled by anger start the “anger volley” and we’re quickly in the game—the “anger volley” game.
Not the campground, please!
With all the “anger volley” games continually broadcast on the news, argued at the coffee shop, shouted among legislators, and everywhere else, please, please, can we ban “anger volley” games at our campgrounds? Please? It’s the one place where relaxation, peace, and goodwill should reign supreme. In my opinion, anyway.