Practical anger management from Seneca
The Stoics were very worried about anger. Here are eight ways to manage it
I have some experience writing about anger, and I realize that a lot of people get really upset when they read about the Stoic take on this particular emotion. Such people really want to be angry. They think they have a right to anger, and that anger will somehow make the world a better place.
This essay is not for them. Instead, I am going to simply assume that you, dear reader, agree that anger is, as Seneca puts it in his masterpiece on the subject, a kind of temporary madness, and that it’s just not a good idea to willingly go mad, even temporarily.
While Seneca’s On Anger is still arguably the best book ever written on the subject, and it’s chockfull of quotables, it’s actually difficult to put some order in the practical advice the author scatters throughout the three parts of the treatise. But then a few days ago I was re-reading the new translation by Robert Master (part of the University of Chicago complete series on Seneca, highly recommended) and came across a marvelous synopsis that will make your consultation of Seneca quick, easy, and highly effective.
So, below are eight Stoic remedies against anger, each illustrated by a pertinent quote from Seneca’s book, using Aubrey Stewart’s classic translation. Keep it handy!
I. Avoidance — Stay away from people and circumstances that trigger anger:
“At the dinner-table some jokes and sayings intended to give you pain have been directed against you: avoid feasting with such people. Those who are not modest even when sober become much more recklessly impudent after drinking.” (III.37)
II. Assess your own actions and character before you complain of unfair treatment:
“If we desire to be impartial judges of all that takes place, we must first convince ourselves of this, that no one is faultless: for it is from this that most of our indignation proceeds. ‘I have not sinned, I have done no wrong.’ Say, rather, you do not admit that you have done any wrong. We are infuriated at being reproved, either by reprimand or actual chastisement, although we are…