When is Anger Useful?

I recently decided I wanted to learn how to livestream video. It’s really just an extension of my fascination with everything related to the indoor training app-video game-social network that is Zwift. So, I created a Twitch account and livestreamed my latest online race, a scratch points race in Season Two of the WTRL/Zwift Racing League. If you’re interested in watching the whole thing, the entire stream can be viewed here (it will eventually go away. This is also the link to my Twitch account in case any of you are interested in following that): https://www.twitch.tv/woundedwonders

I promise not many of my readers will find that stream of much interest, unless you want to see a first hand replay of what Zwift racing can be like. If you’re reading this post and you’re interested in getting involved with this Zwift thing, check out this recent blog post to learn more about the best community, known as The Herd: https://woundedwonders.com/2021/01/11/how-to-build-grow-a-community/

I’ve watched the replay of my own race now and am struck by the fact that my behavior really doesn’t change with the camera on. This is what and who I am when I’m exercising. Near the end, this is what and who I am when I’m competing. But first, Star Wars.

Do you remember the warnings Yoda gave about the Dark Side?

Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

Yoda

If you can, recall the fateful fight scene in Return of the Jedi when the evil Emperor Palpatine is tempting Luke toward vengeance, toward anger, toward the Dark Side. For many of of us, the Star Wars characterization of anger resonates with the way we’ve been brought up. With the way we try to behave on a daily basis. Anger as temptation. Anger as harmful emotion. Anger as something to avoid.

I have worked really hard for my entire life to master my temper, to varying degrees of failure and success. I take great pride in what I perceive as my ability to keep an even temper in professional and family settings. And, from the time I was an 8 year old playing mod soccer, I’ve always found strength in playing angry. Even if my opponent was a good friend, I discovered that if I could get mad and stay mad I was stronger, faster, and more resilient. I didn’t even need to be angry with the other player for this effect to take place, but it always helped.

Through my teen years, I grew to relish the track meets, wrestling matches, and soccer games against trash talkers. The more trash they talked and the dirtier their tactics, the better I played. Because anger. I was also a huuuuge Star Wars nerd so often worried that while I wanted to be one of the good guys, I’d probably wind up being turned to the Dark Side if I was a Jedi. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t have any midichlorians in my blood.

To this day I’m unsure if getting angry was really unlocking hidden strength. Perhaps simply letting go of my anger in a cathartic moment of athletic effort was what felt good. Maybe it was a release for the deeper, darker, more painful reservoir of anger that I carried daily from the far worse things than a questionable slide tackle or arm bar.

However, I live a pretty blessed life these days. I have so very much to be grateful for. I certainly get peeved when somebody forgets to put the cap back on the hot sauce, or when I spill coffee on a white shirt. But that’s nothing, a passing vapor if anything. I don’t think I have hidden rage that I need to release through competition.

And yet.

Here I was at the end of a indoor trainer-online video game-bike race when another player activated his “draft powerup” in an attempt to ride my slipstream to victory. There was less than 60 seconds left in the race and I was knackered. Ready to quit and coast to whatever finish that gave me. But seeing the digital avatar of somebody else trying to beat me pissed me right off. So I went full beast mode. Which is to say, while I could still feel the fatigue, I pushed it into the back corner of my mind and gave myself fully to the unrelenting pursuit of victory over this newfound enemy. I enraged and channeled my fury through the pedals of my smart trainer-bound bicycle and surged across the finish line ahead of each racer around me. Upon crossing the finish line I exploded in an embarrassing stream of jubilant profanity. And I felt good. A little sheepish that I felt good about the whole thing, but good nonetheless.

A short while later, I received a private message through the Zwift Companion App. The stranger I had defeated at the finish line.. the one I raged and cursed at as I conquered him… had sent me a congratulatory message of sportsmanship. Of course he had no way of knowing I had been mo-foing him just minutes before. His message was a virtual hand shake or fist bump, a gesture of respect and camaraderie between competitors after a hard-fought match.

I am certain I would not have shouted any profanity had this race occurred in the real world. But I have finished more than a few road races with a similarly visceral beast mode effort, often punctuated by a barbaric yawp at the finish line. Most people find my yawps to be unsettling. Probably due to social norms and civilization and society, etc.

And so I’m left pondering. When is it healthy to indulge in a bit of barbarism? When is anger useful beyond the short term benefit of adrenaline? I’m a strong safety at heart. There’s nothing sweeter than watching replays of Kam Chancellor demolishing opposing Tight Ends and Wide Receivers. However Kam’s career was cut short due to the violence with which he competed in the hyper-violent NFL.

It seems so much that is wrong in our world today is the result of ill-considered anger. It also seems there is so much wrong that ought to raise a righteous anger in people of conscience. That ought to foment change for good. But the bad guys always think they’re on the side of the angels, don’t they? As you ponder this, I leave you with a visual progression of the emotional journey of my recent race:

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