When ordinary people turn monsters with rage, all that’s often needed is to keep your cool and civility.
The word “rage” terrifies me. It turns ordinary people into monsters. I write about it this week as I was witness to several acts of rage from what seemed like normal, peace loving people. I was standing outside a class room, talking to a friend. A little boy came out of the room with tears in his eyes. “What happened I asked?” He had failed in Hindi. “Never mind do better next time,” I consoled him and talked about cricket to take his mind away from it. A few minutes later a tall man came out of the same room, grabbed this child by the ear, and dragged him all the way out of the building and into their car. What rage the man was in and what was going to happen to the child once he got home?
A passenger at the security check at the airport was asked to go through the check twice. Unfortunately for him, the bleeps went off again and he had to do it a third time. He went into a rage. “Do you think I am terrorist?” he screamed. “Why are you not asking these people to be checked three times,” he said pointing to others. No matter how politely the guards explained to him that there was a metallic object on him which needed to be verified to be safe, he just ranted and raved.
Another incident — as we drove slowly along the East Coast Highway, the motorist behind us kept honking his horn impatiently. As we slowed to halt at a by-road, our driver allowed the person coming from that road to pass by first. This annoyed the motorist behind us so much that he tailgated us for quite a while, honking. Then he overtook us, rolled down his window and yelled abuse. He just would not give up. At the next traffic light, he came up behind us and hit us from behind. This time I was scared as his face was bloated and black with anger, and the road ahead was long and empty.
Why do seemingly normal people succumb to such antisocial, hostile behaviour like screaming abuse, shaking fists, making obscene gestures, and yelling insults? Rage is scary. The hot anger that bubbles inside us that makes us see flaming red. We breathe faster, become hot, change colour; our muscles become tight, the mind becomes blurred and can’t think straight; the mouth becomes dry; hands close into fist, sweat pours down our forehead and suddenly furious anger spills out, scalding anyone who is near.
The alarming thing about rage is that we never know when it is going to explode. Like a volcano that has been quietly steaming deep within, so too does rage simmer inside us for a long time, till something triggers it off. The real anger maybe a promotion denied, or a rejection, betrayal, being bullied or threatened. Sometimes something as trifling as a photocopier without paper, or the fax not working can spark office rage. Whatever the reason, rage and violence go hand in hand. Both have no place in an ahimsa-based society.
Is there anything that diffuses rage? Is there a way in which the man whose child had done badly, or the driver in a hurry or the man at the airport could have diffused their rage? Rage can be controlled by special rhythmic breathing and counting to 10. You may laugh at this, but most anger management techniques use this simple method. When in a rage, we breathe fast. Breathe slowly and it automatically brings your anger level down. So too is walking away until you have cooled down. Perhaps dealing with someone else’s rage is easier than dealing with one’s own. Speaking politely and courteously and showing good manners however provoked, is also a rage diffuser. These are simple non-violent ways of managing rage.
Dealing with rage in an ahimsa way is also an attitude. An attitude that says no matter how provoked, I will remain peace loving. During the years when my mother used to drive in England, she would always let someone pass in front of her if they were in a hurry and would wave her hand and smile in gratitude if someone let her through. When someone pinched her parking place, she would still wave to show that she understood, and would drive on to find another. Once, a man saw the colour of her skin, and her sari and called her “A stupid, Paki, woman driver,” and lightly bumped our car. We children were furious at the insult to our mother. My brother was ready to get out and bash the man up. But mother calmly said, “He seems so angry, let’s pray he gets home safe,” and I do believe she did so.
This is how we remain ahimsa minded amidst rage, hostility and violence. By reminding ourselves that we live in a world that desperately needs people who behave with civil and courteous behaviour. A wave, a smile, a bit of generosity and chivalry on our part will slowly turn the tide of hostility. In situations of rage, we need to remember that the anger is probably not about us, but about the person who is raging and a trigger that has been set off in his/ her life, and therefore not to take the attack personally and be wounded by it. The main thing is to practise not reacting badly to someone else’s rage.
To be understood is a basic human need. Often when someone is in a rage, all they want is to know that you understand their situation — so perhaps an ahimsa way would be to do just that — try and understand why they are raging.