What is the difference between a desire and a goal? You might say that a goal is something you actively work toward, but under the definitions I use, you can work for your desires as well. Here’s the difference for me: every goal has a finish line. It creates a goalpost, a need for how that goal will be concluded—and when that doesn’t happen, we start to get frustrated.
Anger was one of my greatest weaknesses all through my young adult life. I distinctly remember once in a college tennis match, I got so mad that I threw my racket over the court fence and got it stuck in a tree. I didn’t have a spare, so we had to hold up the whole tournament while someone else climbed the tree to get it back for me, and that was far from the only time that I let my temper get me into trouble.
If you think about it, most of the crime in the world is motivated by anger. Maybe not theft so much, but nearly every other kind of crime I can think of, especially violent crime, has anger as its primary source. Things like assault, murder, abuse, and rape are obvious examples, but it’s more than that. There are only two basic reasons for committing a crime, or even just doing something we would typically call “wrong,” even if not in the strict legal sense. We do them either to gain or avoid something for ourselves—in other words, to make our lives easier—or we do them to “balance the scales” for some perceived wrong that has been done to us.
The problem is when the “wrong” being done to us is frustrating a goal we never should have had. Over the years I’ve found that anger is one of the most useful warning lights there is for revealing wrong goals because that’s almost always where it comes from. The only exceptions are in the case of mortal danger (which for most of us is thankfully pretty rare) or what I call “righteous anger,” that is anger at a real injustice, usually being inflicted on someone other than yourself. When you see someone being physically attacked, for example, then a certain amount of anger is warranted because it is good to despise despicable things—so long as you don’t go past that to despising the person.
You may notice that these types of anger have two things in common. Neither of them lasts very long—mortal danger typically only lasts for a few minutes at most, and righteous anger is directed at an act, not a person, and doesn’t persist once that act has been addressed. The second thing they share is that neither of them are about yourself, at least not in the ways that really matter. Self-preservation is a real, instinctual need, not one that we’ve created for ourselves. And righteous anger is all about what’s right, rather than what we want for ourselves, which is pretty much impersonal by definition.
I like to use this as a guide for my own goals and expectations throughout the day. As much as I can, I try to keep from living in the past or future, or from focusing too much on myself. Another way to say that would be (as you’ve heard from me many times before), living in love in the present moment. When I find myself experiencing anything in what you might call the “anger family,” (rage, frustration, irritation, resentment, etc.) I know to double-check myself. Nine times out of ten, it means I’ve let something became a goal—a need— that shouldn’t be.
The type of anger really doesn’t matter much. Whether it’s aggressive, passive-aggressive, assertive, or suppressed depends more on the person than it does on the event. They’re all just different expressions, and the fact that yours is a quieter, more contained kind of anger may not have anything to do with how well you’ve kept it in check. It could just be how you are, so none of us have excuses.
This week, I encourage you to take a look at how often and why you become angry. Ask yourself what makes you feel cheated, and I bet a lot of the time, you’ll find it’s something you never really had much control over anyway. When that’s the case, all you can do is let it go.
Have a blessed, wonderful day!