Way back in 1963 there was an American epic comedy film titled “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” starring Spencer Tracy about the madcap pursuit of $350,000 in stolen cash by a diverse and colorful group of strangers. The comedy all-star cast featured Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas and Jonathan Winters.
I loved that movie and I try to watch it some – it’s over three hours long — whenever it’s shown on TV. The movies’ “mad” meaning was more frenzied and enthusiastic than outright anger, although Winters has some wrathful moments.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing funny about today’s “Mad, Mad … World” where literally it seems so many people are angry. We live in an age of great tension. Often many of us are close to the boiling point as we deal with the frustration of financial burdens, health concerns, confusing technology, over-commitments, transportation delays, rude behavior and, in general, the stressful speed of daily living, especially on our “speedways” called highways.
Even little things can annoy us, like trying to open an item sealed in shrink wrap, untangling an extension cord or hose, dropping a handful of peanuts or spilling a drink. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported three deaths and 15 serious injuries to “mad” men who kicked or rocked vending machines that took their money without vending the snack. Often, we react with an outburst of outrageous language, throw an object across the room or undergo a meltdown when things seem to conspire against us. Afterward, when we come to our senses, we may chastise ourselves for getting so worked up over practically nothing, thinking, “You’re better than this!”
As a society, maybe we are not angry enough about environment damage, injustice, war, prejudice, pornography, ethical health care … the list goes on. But personal rage seems to be “all the rage” lately. Sometimes, a fire burns just beneath our skins, and it doesn’t take much for us to “boil over” and give someone a “piece of our mind.” That someone could be our spouse, a child, a nosy neighbor, a clerk in a store, an erratic driver or an annoying individual talking on a cell phone near us.
And it seems to me people are getting angrier. Evidence of “madness” is all around us. Even our newer vehicles look “angry” with menacing-looking grills, big bumpers and multiple headlights that seem to say “Get out of my way!” There are periodicals on the perils of anger, books on battling rage and literature on living with it. Often times, anger at society is manifested in school shootings, abortion clinic bombings and random rampages at restaurants. Much of our anger is closer to home as we witness parents attacking youth league umpires, screaming at their children, and others abusing each other verbally and physically.
Anger specialists say the problem is the endless array of things and people that provoke our anger. “Want me to stop being angry?” the angry person asks. “Then tell everybody to leave me alone!”
Anger, however, is within us even if we withdraw from the world as the account about the Abbott Ammon illustrates: This desert dweller of the fourth century spent much of his life as a hermit in a desolate region of Egypt, reportedly never ceasing praying to be delivered from his anger. But what was he angry about – sand blowing in his face? Surely, he didn’t have to contend with snarled traffic, telemarketers or noisy neighbors.
“But,” you say, “what does it hurt to blow off some steam once in awhile and give someone a hot serving of justifiable anger? Don’t we need to get things off our chest to maintain our self- respect and keep someone from walking all over us?” Sound okay? Mark Twain said, “When angry, count to four.
When very angry, swear.” However, American satirist and social commentator Ambrose Bierce – the forgotten brother of Mark Twain – said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
Ironically, anger is the only emotion that doesn’t have a real positive payoff. When we give someone a “piece” of our mind, usually it leads to an argument, resentment and holding negative feelings toward one another until eventually there is an apology and/or forgiveness. Seldom is there a resolution to the problem that initially caused the fit or anger. However, knowing that anger doesn’t always pay doesn’t make it any easier to control. Apparently, the trick is to know when to get angry and when not to. “…do not let the sun set on your anger (Eph 4:26).
Finally, to quote Indira Gandhi, “You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.” If we take some time to calm ourselves about what is frustrating us and causing us to want to “explode,” we can give the other person a “peace” of our mind instead.