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Don’t give in to anger: Here’s how

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I wrote a column last week that posed the question: Why the &#%@!$*! is everybody so *#&$! angry?!

The column generated reaction from readers in the form of e-mails and Internet comments (some readers got angry at another reader's response, and thank you for proving my point).

Based on reader response, I'm not the only one who has noticed that this is one ticked-off country and wondered why.

So we're back (but not with a vengeance). Anger: The subject so big and pervasive that it deserves two columns.

After careful study, I've narrowed down the source of things that make us angry — TV commercials, drivers on cell phones, cell phones in movie theaters, Bluetooth, airlines, butting in line, public profanity, long lines, newspaper columnists, taxes, traffic jams, political correctness, politicians ...

(Pause for a deep breath)

... gas prices, loud talkers, close talkers, movie theater talkers, most sports announcers, Hillary, stoplights, lawyers, referees, people who send text messages or answer cell phones during face-to-face conversations, cell phones, politicians ...

(Pause for another deep breath)

... other drivers, government, pop-up ads, junk mail, door-to-door salesmen, smokers who throw cigarette butts out the window, smokers, Jesse Jackson, litter bugs, bosses, the BCS, potholes, people whose opinions aren't the same as ours ...

So, it's simple: Get rid of cell phones and we reduce anger by 25 percent.

Throw out politicians and TV and you knock off another 45 percent, which would give us about the same disposition as a church congregation.

But the question is, again, why are we so hateful and angry? That's the subject of a new book called "Why We Hate Us." Author Dick Meyer writes that the doubling of the population from 1955 to 2005 and the extraordinary social, religious and cultural changes that came with it, combined with the technological revolution (computers, cell phones, e-mail, Internet) dramatically changed and increased the pace of life.

"We have actually underestimated the effects of all this change on our ability to garner happiness, character, fellowship and empathy," writes Meyer. "We are disoriented, anchorless and defensive. That is why we hate us ..."

Meyer notes that the "counterculture" of the '60s and '70s didn't merely throw out destructive and oppressive customs. Useful social mores and ties suffered, too. Men didn't have to hold the door open for women. Couples didn't have to be in committed relationships to have sex or have children. And on it went.

"The cumulative effect was an erosion of socially shared ways of treating others respectfully, the ties that make community possible," writes Meyer. "The new 'selfism' trumped everyday moral impulses. People who lack a sense of belonging are grumpy and inclined to hate the world."

This state of affairs was brilliantly portrayed by the 2004 movie "Crash." The Sandra Bullock character seems to speak for everyone when she tells a friend, after having her car stolen the previous night, "I just woke up this morning and I thought I'd feel better. ... But I was still mad ... and I realized it wasn't about having my car stolen. That's how I wake up every morning. I'm angry all the time. And I don't know why. I don't know why."

Who knows what the solution is, but maybe it begins with something as simple as what a reader named Michael suggested in his response to last week's column. He proposed a way to handle anger that didn't involve middle fingers, four-letter words, therapy or shouting.

This is what Michael wrote: "I read once that the best response to road rage is to hit yourself on the forehead (I-wish-I-had-a-V8 style) and say 'Sorry!' One time I was pulling out of a driveway and some guy on his bicycle had to go around the back of my car because I had blocked the sidewalk. He banged his fists on my car and pulled up next to my window ready for a confrontation.

"I rolled down the window to tell him that riding bikes on sidewalks was against the law you &#$%#! and get your hands off my car, you filthy ape. Instead, I hit my forehead and said 'Sorry!' His fury melted, he looked down, embarrassed, said he was sorry and rode off down the sidewalk. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself."

Maybe the answer is as simple as cutting people some slack. Or going one step further and delivering random acts of kindness for strangers — holding doors open for them, picking up something they dropped, buying a Coke for the person in line behind you. If we're all dazed and confused, as Meyer suggests, then we're dazed and confused together.

Doug Robinson's column runs on Tuesdays. E-mail: drob@desnews.com