OF ANGER by Francis Bacon
TO SEEK to extinguish anger utterly, is but a bravery of the Stoics.
Meaning … Anger is so innate to human nature that to banish it altogether is but an exercise in futility. Only the Stoics, who have absolute mastery over their minds, can ever try to subdue anger. Through patient pursuit of self-control, the Stoics attain a state of impassiveness. As a result, they keep anger along with its ruinous effects at bay. For common human beings, shaking off the savage instinct of anger is a Herculean task.
We have better oracles: Be angry, but sin not. Let not the sun go down upon your anger. Anger must be limited and confined, both in race and in time.
Meaning ….. But, we have recourse to some sane counsel. We may get angry occasionally, but must rein it in so that it does not drive us to dome some heinous, immoral or sinful act. Anger must not find a permanent abode in the mind. It can come, but leave our mind as early as possible. Anger’s fire must not be allowed to engulf our mind and burn down our self.
We will first speak how the natural inclination and habit to be angry, may be attempted and calmed. Secondly, how the particular motions of anger may be repressed, or at least refrained from doing mischief. Thirdly, how to raise anger, or appease anger in another.
Meaning … Bacon proceeds to examine the different dimensions of anger. Fortunately, there are a few ways to keep anger under control. Secondly, there are ways to keep anger under wraps so that it does not affect our outward demeanor, and besmirch our lives with its toxicity. Thirdly, there are ways to arouse anger in others and also, douse it through clever means.
For the first; there is no other way but to meditate, and ruminate well upon the effects of anger, how it troubles man’s life. And the best time to do this, is to look back upon anger, when the fit is thoroughly over.
Meaning …. Meditation offers one of the most effective ways to stop anger from overpowering our minds. Honest and deep introspection and retrospection also is efficacious in staving off anger. The way it robs us of peace, unsettles our daily lives, and distorts our sense of judgment should warn us of keeping anger at arm’s length. When we recover from a fit of anger, we must look back at our conduct and scrutinize it dispassionately. Such self-scrutiny helps us to realize the harm caused to us when we are under the spell of anger.
Seneca saith well, That anger is like ruin, which breaks itself upon that it falls. The Scripture exhorteth us to possess our souls in patience. Whosoever is out of patience, is out of possession of his soul. Men must not turn bees;
… animasque in vulnere ponunt.
Meaning …. Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher. He was a man of profound wisdom with multifarious talent. Seneca had warned commoners about the destructive potential of anger. Anger harms the target as much as the person who harbours it and vents it. Like the ruins of a building burying the remnants of the building, anger shrouds the goodness of the beholder, and blights his error of judgment. The scriptures calls upon us to preserve the purity of ourselves and let any worldly feelings sully it. A person, who expends his patience, loses his soul too. His moral moorings are uprooted. Men must be like the weak bees who aggressively sting whoever comes their way. Such eagerness to hit back at the slightest provocation brings highly unpleasant experiences later.
Anger is certainly a kind of baseness; as it appears well in the weakness of those subjects in whom it reigns; children, women, old folks, sick folks. Only men must beware, that they carry their anger rather with scorn, than with fear; so that they may seem rather to be above the injury, than below it; which is a thing easily done, if a man will give law to himself in it.
Meaning …. Anger finds the weaker humans good and easy hosts. A strong man loses his cool only after intense and continuous provocation, where as a child, woman, a sick person, or a frail old man gets irritated easily. A man must reckon his propensity to get angry as an evil tendency, and not a desirable trait. He should keep it under a tight leash, and not fall prey to it easily. Such capacity to keep one’s anger in check does not come easily. A great deal of discipline and self- control is essential to keep a lid on anger.
For the second point; the causes and motives of anger, are chiefly three. First, to be too sensible of hurt; for no man is angry, that feels not himself hurt; and therefore tender and delicate persons must needs be oft angry; they have so many things to trouble them, which more robust natures have little sense of.
Meraning … Bacon now proceeds to analyze why people fall victim to anger. People who are unduly sensitive can not tolerate minor irritants, criticisms, jokes etc. They express their displeasure by behaving angrily. On the contrary, men who are robust and self-confident take criticisms and irritants on their stride and seldom lose their cool. These people get angry, no doubt, but only after grave provocation. The weaklings can not laugh off criticism, and get annoyed frequently.
The next is, the apprehension and construction of the injury offered, to be, in the circumstances thereof, full of contempt: for contempt is that, which putteth an edge upon anger, as much or more than the hurt itself. And therefore, when men are ingenious in picking out circumstances of contempt, they do kindle their anger much.
Meaning …. When people get angry, they begin to hate the person who hurts them, either intentionally or inadvertently. They think the insult heaped on them was a calculated move. This is why contempt for the offender always follows their anger. Such a combination of hurt feelings and loathing makes the man irascible and resentful. Such consequence bode ill for his well-being.
Lastly, opinion of the touch of a man’s reputation, doth multiply and sharpen anger. Wherein the remedy is, that a man should have, as Consalvo was wont to say, telam honoris crassiorem. But in all refrainings of anger, it is the best remedy to win time; and to make a man’s self believe, that the opportunity of his revenge is not yet come, but that he foresees a time for it; and so to still himself in the meantime, and reserve it.
Meaning …. When a man is maligned by criticism he feels very aggrieved, because his standing in society is called into question. At times, he seethes in anger to avenge the undeserved humiliation caused to him by vilification by some wicked elements. Bacon has a word of advice here. He wants his readers, aggrieved by mud-slinging, not to act impulsively against the offender. Instead, he should wait out the period of torment, and wait for the opportune time to strike back at the foe. He must learn to contain the rage and maintain equanimity in his conduct. This will help him to decide upon the best way to deal with the offender.
To contain anger from mischief, though it take hold of a man, there be two things, whereof you must have special caution. The one, of extreme bitterness of words, especially if they be aculeate and proper; for cummunia maledicta are nothing so much; and again, that in anger a man reveal no secrets; for that, makes him not fit for society. The other, that you do not peremptorily break off, in any business, in a fit of anger; but howsoever you show bitterness, do not act anything, that is not revocable.
Meaning …. Bacon says that it is not easy to hold back anger and hide it inside one’s self. Anger leads to mischief, bringing very undesirable consequences at times. To avoid such a situation, one needs to exercise restraint on one’s emotions. The angry man must eschew tendencies to utter hurtful words at his tormentors. In the heat of the moment, he can say something very unbecoming to his stature in the society or divulge some secrets to his own detriment. The consequences can be quite unpleasant for him in the long run. In the event of disagreement or acrimony with a business partner, one must not walk away in a huff, severing all ties. Similarly, one must not say or do something which can not be retracted later.
For raising and appeasing anger in another; it is done chiefly by choosing of times, when men are frowardest and worst disposed, to incense them. Again, by gathering (as was touched before) all that you can find out, to aggravate the contempt. And the two remedies are by the contraries. The former to take good times, when first to relate to a man an angry business; for the first impression is much; and the other is, to sever, as much as may be, the construction of the injury from the point of contempt; imputing it to misunderstanding, fear, passion, or what you will.
Meaning …. In conclusion, Bacon offers some practical advice. If you intend to annoy someone, or mollify him, you must be careful to select the opportune time to do so. When a man is in an awkward situation or vulnerable due to whatever reasons, it would be wise to turn on him. One must learn to garner all facts to add venom to one’s assault on the offender. The contrary way is to counter the urge for contempt by assuming that the root cause was baseless fear, ignorance, and misunderstanding.