Get Over Yourself

Too often our anger is like trying to thread a needle while shouting curses

By Doyle Srader

Over my decade and a half in Eugene, I’ve shared the city with Sabrina Ionescu and Marcus Mariota, and I am not in their league. What they do takes talent, hard work and discipline. But there are benefits to staying active, and whenever I lace up my ASICS and go for a run, I spot neighbors down in my league, not in any danger of making a Sports Illustrated cover, just moving their bodies to stay healthy.

I also know people who never get off the couch, but I don’t know enough to say more. Some can’t; they have invisible disabilities or chronic health conditions that are not my business. Others are just couch potatoes; they don’t want to exercise, so they don’t. And some self-diagnose with an invisible disability or chronic health condition as an excuse for inactivity. 

From the outside, I can’t tell who’s what, so I make my choices and keep my mouth shut about theirs. Nevertheless, people who get active reap a lot of rewards, and people who don’t, pay a price.

The exact same thing could be said about emotional intelligence.

Last September, Eugene Weekly published an essay I wrote about loneliness. The next week, Timothy Gardner replied that the real problem was some mix of poor mental health and willful ignorance, and concluded that the sane and informed “have a very clear right to be angry.” I’ve heard that from my neighbors, directed at many local problems: covid, homelessness, politics, hate speech, drug trafficking, porch pirating, other people’s bad driving.

I’m betting none of them are oncologists, or at least I sure hope not. 

If you’re diagnosed with cancer, you don’t erupt with rage and pound your tumor with a sledgehammer. Instead, you come at it from many angles, amassing all reliable clues and promising treatments toward getting you from patient to survivor. I’ve seen enough cancer diagnoses among friends and family to know anger is something you might experience, and you mustn’t bury. But it’s not helpful. It’s like trying to thread a needle while screaming profanity at it. 

So am I saying people have no right to be angry? No, I can’t: I don’t know anyone’s backstory but my own. I do know that at least some of the time, anger can be reframed out of existence. Ever get mad at what someone did, only to find out you were mistaken? For you to stay angry, the underlying facts have to be correct and your interpretation has to be the best one. If either of those gives way, the anger goes with it.

The parents of the girls killed at West Nickel Mines School in the 2006 shooting chose forgiveness over hatred, and so did family members of Dylann Roof’s victims. No one could question their right to be angry, but they set it aside. Their lives were halted by social malignancies, and they didn’t reach for the sledgehammer. 

They are the Sabrina Ionescus and Marcus Mariotas of emotional intelligence, and not everybody has their gifts and self-discipline. I’m just a Butte to Butte nine-minute miler, trying to stay active enough to be healthy. And some people never get off the couch because they can’t, and I try to have compassion for them. But some choose not to, and some delude themselves that they can’t when they really could if they stopped making excuses.

With emotional intelligence, we don’t put up posters of Sabrina and Marcus; we join in the chorus with the couch potatoes. But a new year is here, and we should resolve to get in shape.

We don’t need to “get tough on homelessness.” We don’t need to insult the vaccine-hesitant. We don’t need to brag about our road rage and blame it on other people’s bad driving. Those responses are to anger as airport security theater is to fear: satisfying, but useless. Nearly every public problem people get angry about is complicated, and real solutions would require smart planning, execution, patience and a cooperative spirit.

The disintegration of trust underlying all this seeds belief in conspiracy theories, but there’s only one conspiracy I truly believe in: the folks perched at the top, holding the levers of power, are safest when we’re at one another’s throats. Anytime I point out insults and hostility aren’t productive, and float the idea that conversation and listening are necessary first steps, I immediately hear, “Oh, there’s absolutely no point to trying to talk to those people.”

And that’s exactly what they want you to think.

Doyle Srader lives in Eugene.

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