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Niedner: Society needs a pill for uncontrolled anger

Frederick Niedner

Frederick Niedner

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Updated: February 26, 2014 6:09AM



Our society needs blood pressure meds. We’re near to exploding. Consider this week’s news as the cuff on our collective arm.

The nation has witnessed six school shootings this January, compared with 14 in all of 2013. Most recently, a Purdue student shot and killed a fellow engineering student at midday in a classroom building. So far, we’ve heard nothing about a motive, but chances are we’ll eventually learn of a festering resentment that finally overrode the gunman’s attempts at self-control.

We’ve also had shootings on Northwest Indiana expressways this week. In both instances, drivers who considered themselves “dissed” by another motorist’s behavior decided to teach the offenders a lesson by pulling close enough to shoot up the others’ cars — and in one case the driver as well.

Think, too, of the young dad in a Florida movie theater who last week paid with his life when he angered a nearby patron by continuing to text on his phone despite the on-screen request to disable and put away all such devices.

If you want to witness rage firsthand, look up one of these stories on an Internet news source and read the anonymous comments that follow. If you can digest a few screens of those comment threads without your pulse rising, maybe you’re already taking too many beta blockers.

The week’s most public episode of exploding rage didn’t involve weapons other than the human body. In the waning seconds of the Sunday evening victory that sent Seattle’s Seahawks into the Superbowl, defensive back Richard Sherman sealed the win by batting away a pass that, if completed, would have given the game to San Francisco’s 49ers. Moments later, with an interviewer’s microphone in his face, Sherman delivered a screaming rant that touted his greatness and demeaned the receiver for whom the fateful pass was intended.

At his coach’s request, Sherman eventually issued an apology, but that has failed to draw attention away from his antics and back onto his team’s victory. Fellow athletes and pundits alike have criticized Sherman’s lack of sportsmanship. Plenty of others, however, have defended him.

In the most telling such piece, Yahoo sports commentator Dan Wetzel argues that in the gladiator-like blood sport of professional football, every player needs some mental or psychological tactic that enables continual risk of life, limb and long-term health.

Some, like Tim Tebow, draw on religion. Others take drugs. Still others use a cultivated form of rage that doesn’t wear off the moment the horn sounds. This last category includes Sherman. So, Wetzel asserts, we shouldn’t think any differently of Sherman’s unsightly rage than Tebow’s pious Tebowing.

Anger isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. Our oldest literature suggests that it has plagued us always. In the biblical story of humankind’s beginnings, Cain grew angry when it seemed that heaven shined more brightly on his brother than on him. He couldn’t imagine another response except to wring his brother’s neck. Ever since, we have lived with bloody vengeance, anger chasing anger.

Do we simply concede to the ubiquitous inevitability of lethal anger? Not if we listen to sages like Elie Wiesel, a saintly scholar and Holocaust survivor who blames Abel almost as much as Cain for the tragedy that ruined them both. Abel, Wiesel suggests, did not listen to his brother or attempt to understand what riled his soul. Without a friend or advocate, one’s disappointments morph progressively into anger, rage and righteous mayhem.

That’s tough medicine. But medicine it is — listening to each other carefully, not merely writing each other off. It might be the only societal blood pressure med we have.



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