It’s Madness All Right….

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Right now, Guns and Ammo is running a March Madness themed ad campaign on its website.

Here’s how it works.  Like the NCAA tournament, there are four divisions: Handguns, Rifles, Modern Sporting Rifles, and Shotguns.  Within each division, there are 16 types of guns listed that face off against one another.  They are seeded.  For instance, in the first round, the “Smith & Wesson M&P 10” is a 1-seed, facing off against the 16th seeded “Salient Arms Tier 1.” (Presumably, the seeds are based on how they did in the regular season?)  Fans vote on their favorite and the winner moves on to the next round until we get to the final and can finally learn the answer to the question we’ve all been waiting for… most popular gun.

I want to mention first that I’ve never seen so many advertisements on one website.  The contest is brought to you Galco Gunleather.  The rifles are brought to you by Burris; handguns by Laserlyte, and so on.  There’s a banner for Smith & Wesson at the top (maybe that’s why they’re a 1-seed), another banner for a thermosight at the bottom, and ads for various magazines on both sides.  It’s almost as though advertisers have found the perfect place to target an overly-devoted and obsessive group of consumers.

Aside from wandering into an advertising nightmare, the entire contest is weird as hell.  Guns are tools.  This is a contest where people go vote for their favorite tool.  I’m pretty sure Bosch isn’t sponsoring a March Madness-themed contest where people vote for their favorite power-drill or sander.  I did go check, though, just to be sure and, no, they’re not.  And if they were, I’m pretty sure no one would go vote because there are very few power-drill enthusiasts out there.

Here’s the thing, though.  It would be less weird for people to go vote on their favorite power tools.  Power tools are not designed with the explicit purpose of killing people like many of these guns.  The Smith & Wesson M&P 10 is designed for “multiple uses” but at least two of those uses, tactical and defensive, include killing people.  I can’t find as much information about the Salient Arms Tier 1 (I’m beginning to understand why it was a 16-seed) but it would appear to have a similar purpose.  What qualities are people voting on?

On top of all that, though, there’s strangeness in the fiery passion with which people are trying to defend their choices.  On Facebook, where the campaign is being advertised, people are taking to the comments to defend their choice and sway others.  Respondents are angry over how few people appreciate their preferred gun.  Some are indignant over even being asked which they prefer, as though they are being forced to decide which child they love most.  How dare you even ask?  These guns are each special in their own way!

I’m not trying to make light of it.  I’ve often found the culture of gun-enthusiasm a bit haunting.  I remember once listening to two kids in the bookstore of an airport arguing over which assault rifle was better, the same way two kids might talk about whether or not Michigan State had a chance to win the east as a 4-seed.  Unlike basketball, though, this isn’t a game.  It simply can’t be healthy to think about guns this way yet, right now, there are tens of thousands of people doing just that and several massive companies making millions by promoting it.

By Ryan C. Martin

Mob Creation

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In the interest of full disclosure, I want to start by saying I have no strong feelings about Duck Dynasty as a show.  Until about three weeks ago, I barely knew what it was.  And now that I do, I still don’t really have any strong feelings other than that Phil Robertson is quite the bigot and appears to have some ridiculous opinions about a great many things.

I do, however, have strong feelings about the online mob that was created in response to his suspension.  As an anger researcher who is particularly interested in the way people express their rage online, I watched with fascination as an angry, online mob gathered their pitchforks  and went after A&E, non-Christians, and liberals.

I watched as Twitter erupted with angry tweets from Duck Dynasty fans.  I watched people I’m friends with on Facebook, who almost never post anything, post article after article in defense of Phil Robertson.

It quickly became about much more than whether or not the show would air or whether or not his comments were appropriate. In reading through the tweets, it was clear that to his fans his suspension was an attack on hunters, the first amendment, and all Christians everywhere.

These memes flooded Twitter in the days after his suspension:

One could, of course, go through and pick these apart, as they all defy basic common sense.  Had liberals really been defending Miley Cyrus?  And were liberals the ones who suspended Robertson?   When were his constitutional rights violated, when did this become about Islam, and are you really comparing the Robertsons to the apostles?

Some of this can be explained by basic social psychology.  When members of any group (in this case, hunters, Christians, conservatives, etc.) feel attacked, they tend to lash out at the perceived attackers.  In this case, the perceived attackers were liberals, A&E and the rest of the media, non-hunters, and non-Christians.  Robertson’s supporters circled the wagons and responded the way groups that feel threatened often do.

But some of this was manufactured and that’s the part that concerns me most.  In the days after Robertson’s comments, the following was said by various Republican leaders across the country:

Former Vice-Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin (December 18th, 2013, via Facebook): “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

Governor Bobby Jindal (December 19th, 2013, via a statement released by his office): “I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment. It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”

Senator Ted Cruz (December 19th, 2013, via Twitter): “If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over treatment of Phil Robertson”

So we have three (and there have been many others) prominent conservatives who are actively working to fuel the fire.  That alone isn’t a problem.  Politicians often try to drum up anger as a way of gaining support (here’s why, by the way).  What is a problem, though, is that they are lying to their followers as they do it.  Robertson’s first amendment rights were absolutely not violated in any way and Palin, Jindal, and Cruz must know that (see here for an explanation of how free speech doesn’t guarantee you a TV show).  I supposed it’s possible their understanding of the first amendment is so limited that they actually think this is a violation of Robertson’s first amendment rights.  But I doubt it.  Their position on this is actually inconsistent with the corporate-personhood cause they have been championing these last years (i.e., if corporations have rights, why doesn’t A&E have the right to suspend an employee for voicing something that may damage the company image).

What’s more likely is that Palin, Jindal, and Cruz knew their supporters would have a knee-jerk reaction to the idea that liberals were attacking the constitution and they deliberately lied to them in order to feed the rage and create a mob.

Such behavior is shameful and dangerous.  To that point, on December 20th, A&E had to increase security at their headquarters due to death threats and “suspicious looking packages” in response to the Robertson suspension.  It’s not fair to suggest a direct link between their comments and these death threats, but it is fair to say that their dishonest comments escalated an already emotionally charged situation.  There are consequences to mob creation.

I’m not asking them to keep quiet.  They have every right to express their opinions on this and anything else.  I’m just asking them to be honest as they do it.  I’m asking them to recognize the responsibility that comes with having so many supporters and not to fan the flames of the online mob with their dishonest rhetoric.

By Ryan C. Martin

If “Hanger” Can be a Thing, Why Not These?

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According to a recent Huffington Post article, 10 Things Hangry People Do, hanger is when people are both hungry and angry.  It seems to lead to all sorts of problems like a need for butter and starch and “chocolate freak-outs.”

It got me thinking, though; why not combine anger with other emotional/cognitive/behavioral states to create more fun new words.  In that spirit, here are a handful of portmanteaus (a word I totally knew on my own and didn’t have to ask my colleagues in the English department about) we should embrace:

  • Temperature Tantrums: An uncontrollable outburst of anger because you are either too hot or too cold.
  • Lustration: Intense sexual desire… for someone who’s just not that into you.
  • Checkoutrage: The frustration from consistently choosing the wrong line at the grocery store.
  • Inferiation: An inaccurate deduction that leads to infuriation.
  • Resetment: The feeling of betrayal and irritation that comes with having to restore your cellphone to factory settings.
  • Madderall: The drug prescribed for people with anger and attention problems.
  • Pollyannoyed: Feeling irritated by another’s joyful outlook on life.

This is intended to be just the start.  Please feel free to add others to the comments below.

By Ryan C. Martin

Reflections on Gun Violence, Gun Enthusiasm, and Whether or Not Killing is Cool

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Over the last few days, I’ve read article after article about the tragedy in Connecticut.  From the need for gun-control to the need for civility, from why gun control won’t work to why we need to do more for the mentally ill, it seems every topic has been covered.  I admit, I’ve been angrier than most people over this shooting and it’s been hard to control it sometimes.  I’ve been told by friends, family, and acquaintances that there is no sense blaming anyone and that it doesn’t do any good to get angry.

I’m writing this as much to process my own anger and sadness and fear as anything else.  With all due respect to those who want me to stop pointing fingers, I simply don’t agree.  I don’t believe this shooting, or any shooting, just happens.  I think they are allowed to happen because we as a society have failed in a variety of ways to do the things that need to be done.

In the interest of full-disclosure, let me start by saying that I hate guns.  I have no interest in them and no desire to own, use, or even hold one.  Ultimately, the reason I hate guns is because I have no desire to kill anyone or anything.  I’m certain I would if I had to in order to protect myself or my family.  But if I ever did kill someone, I know I would be tortured by it forever.  It would haunt me because, when all is said and done, I think killing is always bad… even when it’s justified.

Despite my hatred of guns, I don’t fault people for wanting to own a gun for defense.  I think it’s usually a bad decision to own a gun (the data says they rarely save lives and increase the chances of accidental death in the home dramatically) and I would discourage my friends and family from doing so.  But, ultimately, people make lots of bad decisions about safety and this is just one of them.  Nor do I fault people for enjoying hunting.  While I don’t see the appeal, I understand that people enjoy it as a sport the same way I enjoy certain sports.

So, to any gun owners out there who might be reading this, please don’t think I am trying to paint you all with one brush.  I’m not.  I know many gun owners and find them to be responsible, smart people.  In fact, the gun owners I know are equally repulsed by what I’m about to describe.

There is a type of gun-owner, the gun-enthusiast, that seems different from the responsible gun owners I know.  Gun-enthusiasts do not see guns as tools for hunting or protection exclusively.  They see them and are attracted to them as killing machines.  They think guns are cool and they think that the bigger the gun in their hand, the tougher they are.  They are the ones who have bumper stickers that read, “Don’t mess with the 2nd Amendment and I won’t be forced to exercise it” or signs up in their yard that read, “Trespassers will be shot.  Survivors will be shot again.”  More to the point, they are the people who created, sold, and/or bought the gun range targets designed to look like Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old, unarmed, boy who was killed by George Zimmerman in February, 2012 (these targets sold out before anyone had a chance to complain about them).

I like to cling to the idea that the people I’m talking about are rare.  I’m not so sure, though.  In trying to get a better sense of what gun-enthusiasts are like, I visited the website of Guns and Ammo, the self-proclaimed, “World’s Most Widely Read Firearms Magazine.”  Quite honestly, the things I saw and read there are more than a little upsetting.

The first thing I saw on their website was the article, “Gift Guide for the Tactical Guy,” featuring a photo of Santa, in dark sunglasses, holding a rifle.  Incidentally, it’s actually one of two photos of Santa holding a gun on their homepage.  The other is for a caption contest and shows Santa in what looks like a war zone, firing a large gun.  If you click on the link, you will find hundreds of submissions to the contest, including the following:

  • Instead of coal, you get lead
  • Delivering gifts in Afghanistan….
  • We wish you a merry Christmas to you and your kind
  • Merry CHRISTmas–taliban–These ROUNDS are on me..gifts delivered!!
  • Naughty, Nice, Expendable….its all good!!
  • If you’re against Christians you’re against me. If you’re against me I’m against you. Since I have a bigger better rifle and more ammo, I’ll win. Too late, you loose.
  • Ho Ho Holy War.

This is exactly what I mean when I talk about people finding joy in the idea of killing.

I went back to read the article about gifts for tactical guys where my first question was, of course, “what’s a tactical guy?”  I know what it means to be tactical and think of myself as tactical about a great many things (the use of words, for example) but I don’t think that’s what they were referring to.  A quick glimpse at the gift guide reveals that, to them, a tactical guy is someone who is prepared to kill at a moment’s notice.  A tactical guy carries an assault rifle or automatic pistol whenever they leave the house.  A tactical guy carries a tactical tomahawk that is “built to pound” and is perfect for “breaching operations.”  Finally, a tactical guy also has dress pants specially designed to conceal weapons for a night on the town.

And this isn’t all.  I found articles explaining why assault rifles are better for home defense than you might think, on what the media doesn’t understand about guns (full of unverified claims), and even an article on what your assault rifle says about you.  But what was most revealing to me was what I found in the discussion forums.  The good news is that most of the people who posted seemed relatively responsible, though a little paranoid.  They discuss things like strategies for using ATM machines late at night, the best types of holsters, and gun-related current events.  Though I disagree vehemently with the politics, most of it was pretty similar to what you find on any political thread on any Facebook page or discussion forum.

Scattered within these relatively reasonable posts, however, were hauntingly upsetting comments about killing.  In response to this story about a recent shooting in Minnesota, one person wrote that no good deed goes unpunished and how unfair it was that the shooter would be punished after doing the cops a favor by taking out two criminals.  Later, regarding a law he/she opposed, one person made reference to lynching the politicians who passed it.  Finally, in response to President Obama’s speech at the vigil in Newtown, one person wrote, “Why don’t idiots with guns ever target some of the gun grabbers? 20-something innocent kids die, and at least that many worthless congress-critters live on to trample on our rights. There’s something way wrong with that picture!”

To this person, the tragedy wasn’t that 27 people were killed, it’s that the wrong 27 people were killed.

As I was writing this, a friend alerted me to the story on NPR about the AR-15, the gun used by the shooter in Connecticut.  Melissa Block interviewed gun expert, Malcolm Brady, who described the gun as “cool” several times, even referring to it as “the Rambo effect.”  When pressed about his description of it as cool, he couldn’t really answer other than to say that some may be reliving their days in the military.  Later in the interview, he estimated that sales of this gun will go up in response to this tragedy.  Again, when pressed, he couldn’t really give a clear answer other than to say that “the people who will be buying them will be buying them in the premise that I can prevent that same thing happening at my house or my business or my location.”

But I think the real answer is something he already said several times.  I think the reason sales are going to go up is largely because some people think this gun is cool and will make them tough.  They don’t think of it as a tool.  They think of it as accessory.  They want to be like Rambo and on some level they hope they get a chance to use it.  The question that needs an answer is the one Melissa Block asked but didn’t get a real answer to:

“I have to ask you, Mr. Brady, you’re talking about the coolness of a weapon that was just used to mow down 20 children?”

By Ryan Martin

Responding to the Angry Email: A Follow-Up

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Last June, I posted on article titled, Avoiding the Angry Email, directed at students who get frustrated with their instructors and respond with angry emails. You can read it here but, basically, it offered an explanation for how email tends to exacerbate problematic expressions of anger and offered tips on how to better handle such situations.

Like many of my posts, I decided to write it based partially on personal experiences. I had been teaching a couple of online classes that summer and had gotten a few angry emails from students who were upset about grades, policies, etc. The topic had been on my mind and, after talking with some colleagues with similar experiences, I decided to write the post. My hope was that it would be a helpful resource for instructors who wanted to share it with their students.

Interestingly, one of my students who I had had a very minor disagreement with over email read it and posted about it the online discussion forum for a class of mine that he was enrolled in. He wanted to know if he had been the motivation for the post and also wanted to express his regret over the original dispute.

Though he had not been the primary motivator for the original post, it did provide the opportunity to get feedback from the students in my class about how they would like instructors to respond when such situations arise.

Here is what they came up with:

  1. Call them on it. They said they do not think students intend on being rude most of the time and probably do not realize how they are coming across. Having an instructor let them know that their email came across as rude is good feedback for them and will help them develop better insight and learn to communicate more effectively in the future.
  2. Acknowledge that they care. One pointed out that a student has to care about the class and his or her grade in order to get angry over it. While the way they expressed it is not a good thing, the fact that they are angry probably is a good thing and it is nice for them to have that acknowledge. Something like and instructor writing, “I can see that this is important to you” or “I appreciate that you care about how you do in the class” can go a long way.
  3. Model politeness and professionalism in response. They felt that one of the best ways to let students know what is expected of them is to model it for them. Make sure your emails to them, whether it is in response to a rude email or not, reflects the courteousness and respectfulness you want them to show.
  4. Invite them to talk about it in person. They acknowledged that sometimes they are intimidated by their instructors and choose email as an easy way out. Having their instructor invite them to talk about the issue in person might open the door to healthier communication.
  5. Do not withhold assistance. One student who had experienced an email dispute with an instructor said that they appreciated that the instructor still addressed the original problem that prompted the angry email in the first place.
  6. Set the expectations ahead of time. They said that part of the problem is that students don’t always realize what their instructors want from them with regard to electronic communication and said they appreciate it when those norms are made clear at beginning of class.

 

 

“I Can’t Believe Someone Would Do That!” Why Parents Get Mad at Other Parents.

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A few weeks ago, a friend and colleague of mine wrote a really interesting blog piece on whether the focus on keeping children from swearing is misguided (you can read it here). The comments that followed her piece were the usual mix of insightful, complimentary, and argumentative. Some readers really seemed to connect with her perspective, some politely disagreed, and some were flat out rude and disrespectful. Of this last sort, at least one person suggested my friend had harmed her child by listening to rap music when she was pregnant and another seemed to question whether she was fit to be an educator.

The funny thing is that these comments were relatively tame compared to those comments you might find elsewhere on the internet. In fact, you can hardly avoid witnessing a rage filled debate when you visit the Parents Magazine page on Facebook. Posts about flash card applications for your smartphone prompt arguments over the role of technology in parenting and posts asking people how they spend their Sundays lead to arguments about the role of church. Even their “Messy Eater Photo Contest” prompted some comments about how it is wrong to let kids play with their food.

Meanwhile, just a few months ago, I found myself embroiled in my own little Facebook debate on the appropriateness of the “cry it out” approach to sleep training. While things stayed civil, there were certainly points in the discussion when I felt angry. All of these examples, coupled with many others, have made me start to wonder: Why do people get angry over the decisions that other parents make?

On the surface, it does not really make sense. Typically, we get angry when we are provoked. We get angry when we think we have been treated unfairly and when we feel we have been harmed. So why would anyone care if another parent lets his or her child play with food at the dinner table? How is it that they feel provoked or harmed by that decision? Likewise, why would someone feel unfairly treated or harmed by my friend’s decision to listen to rap music while pregnant?

Of course, there are times when it makes perfect sense to be angry over another’s parenting. Instances of abuse, neglect, etc. are an outrage and everyone should be angry about them. But, I don’t think that spending Sunday morning at the park or zoo instead of church falls into that category.

Not surprisingly, there is no research on this. It is a rather specific topic that no one seems to be exploring. Consequently, my thoughts on this are not driven as much by research as they are by theory and observations. With that in mind, here are some possible explanations as to where the anger might be coming from.

Insecurity. Parenting decisions are both difficult and deeply personal. Whether it is how long to use a car or booster seat, what to do about tantrums, or the best way to potty train, parents have to make tough decisions. When you add that there are countless and conflicting sources of information, it is easy to feel insecure about the decisions you make. When someone makes a different decision than you, it might make you feel like you are doing something wrong. If you are from the “cry it out” school of sleep training, someone saying they never let their child cry might feel like a provocation. If you never let your child play with his or her food, a Parents Magazine tribute to messy eaters might make you feel like they are saying you are too strict. Consequently, you feel angry, a common response to feeling as though your decisions and abilities are being questions or insulted.

Confidence Building. Related to this issue of insecurity, a second possibility is that the anger one feels in these instances helps build his or her confidence. In other words, if you do not always feel like the perfect parent (and most do not), maybe judging someone else makes you feel better about yourself and your abilities. When you are at dinner and see parents letting their kids eat something you would not let your kids eat, becoming angry at them might actually boost your confidence and make you feel better about something you are actually feeling insecure about. In a sense, what you might be thinking is, “I don’t have all the answers but at least I don’t do that.”

Indirect Provocation. Finally, some people may see decisions other parents make as a symptom of something bigger. For example, the regular church goer might see someone who does not take his or her kids to church as a symptom of societal decay. Someone who does not make their kids say “please” and “thank you” might be considered a symptom of a bigger problem, the lack of manners and civility in society today. These decisions then do feel like they are provocations, at least indirectly, to the person who witnesses them.

Something interesting happened as I was writing this post. I had to take a break to go pick my kids up from daycare and when I was there the teacher asked me if my four-month old was sleeping through the night. I said no, that he needs to be fed once in the middle of the night. I also mentioned, as sort of a side comment, that we put him to bed pretty early compared to most kids. She was somewhat shocked by the time we put him to bed and asked if we had considered a later bed time for him.

I admit, it made me a little angry and defensive to have her question me like that. It probably should not have. It is reasonable for a daycare worker to ask about certain habits and I imagine, from her perspective, she is wondering if a later bedtime would mean that he would take better naps when he is at daycare. I certainly would not get angry if someone challenged me in a similar way over a decision I made at work (i.e., I do not get angry when I am challenged about my attendance policy or my position on extra credit). But, like most people, I am sometimes insecure about the decisions I make as a parent and, even though I believe that an earlier bedtime is best for him, it is still easy to feel defensive when challenged.

It was a timely example given that I was writing this post when it happened. The good news, though, is that a little bit of introspection helped me work through it and better understand why I felt as I did.

By Ryan C. Martin

Why Driving Makes Us Mad

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If you were an evil genius and wanted to develop a situation that made people angry, it would look a lot like driving. 

Here are four reasons why:

Tension.  Quite simply, driving is dangerous.  Because it is dangerous, it makes us nervous.  This is true whether we have been doing it for days, years, or decades.  Even if we are so used to it that we don’t notice it anymore, we still feel some tension when we drive.  Read the rest at Psychology Today.

Avoiding the Angry Email

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In talking with some colleagues, it’s becoming more and more common to get angry and sometimes even aggressive emails from students.  It seems the typical pattern is that a student gets a bad grade on something or doesn’t agree with a decision the instructor has made and quickly fires off an angry email to try and resolve the situation (or sometimes just to complain about it).

I can certainly attest to having received such emails and it’s never pleasant.  Typically, they are full of bolded words, the excessive use of capital letters, and lack any sort of salutation.  When I get them, it bothers me for several reasons.  It’s rude, disrespectful, and makes me feel as though my hard work isn’t appreciated.  What’s worse, though, is that sometimes the student is right in his or her criticism or concern but wrong in how he or she expressed it.  In other words, the student is making a very valid point but it’s hard to find because it’s hidden behind all those exclamation points. 

If you are a student, this is exactly why you should think twice about sending such an email.  Your position might be absolutely correct but you are making it really easy for your instructor to ignore it by being rude.  Once you send a hostile email, the exchange stops being about your concern and starts being about your nasty email. 

If you have done this, you are certainly not alone.  It’s a common mistake and there are all sorts of reasons why electronic communication lends itself to this sort of thing. 

Exacerbating Impulsivity.  The electronic format worsens impulse control problems because it’s too quick and easy.  When I was a student (in the olden days before email), if I wanted to voice a concern to one of my teachers, not only did I have to have a face to face talk, I had to wait to the next class or his or her office hours to have that talk (I suppose I could have used the phone but I don’t think many people did that).  That gave me plenty of time to cool off and think about the best way to handle the situation. 

With email (and texting, Facebook posts, etc.), you can send your response immediately.  This means that you are responding when you are most angry, which influences what you write.  You are less rational and less likely to think through the consequences.  While that angry email likely does capture what you are really feeling, it’s probably not expressing that frustration in the most effective way.  Consequently, you may fail to get your point across or, worse yet, you may damage your relationship and reputation with the instructor.

Perceived Anonymity. A second issue is that email feels semi-anonymous to people.   It’s not anonymous, of course, but the distance between you and the recipient may stop you from censoring yourself.  As you are typing the email, you aren’t looking the person in the eye, you aren’t seeing his or her facial expression, or listening to his or her side of the story.  If it were a face-to-face conversation, you might notice that he or she is really processing what you are saying and you may come to understand his or her perspective before things get too heated.  Even if that doesn’t happen, it’s just harder for most people to say hurtful things to a person’s face.  When you can see that what you are saying is hurting or offending them, you are more likely to back off. 

Now, by no means am I suggesting that you not voice your concerns or frustration to your instructors.  They make mistakes sometimes and, when they do, their students have the right to try and address those mistakes.  In fact, I want you to voice that frustration… just more effectively. 

So, students, the next time you want to voice a concern to one of your instructors, I would encourage you to do the following before you hit send. 

  1. Don’t hit send at all.  Go talk to the person if you can.  Email is sometimes the easy way out.  It’s what people rely on when they don’t want to have a real but uncomfortable conversation with someone.  Clearly, there are times when email may be the way to go (e.g., an online class) but, if it’s possible to avoid it, it might make sense to do so.   
  2. Wait.  Emotions are usually short lived. If you can wait it out, your anger will start to dissipate and the email you send will probably be better for it.  If you feel you need to do something, go ahead and start writing but don’t send until you’ve had a chance cool off, reread, think it through, and probably rewrite some parts.    
  3. Have it read.  You may want to ask a friend you trust to read it before you send it.  If that person is removed from the situation, he or she might be able to offer some much needed perspective, tell you if it sounds rude, or if it’s unclear. 
  4. Be professional. Sometimes, what comes across as rudeness or excessive anger is actually a lack of professionalism (or, worse yet, a combination of both).  Treat these emails the way you would treat a letter.  Start with some sort of greeting (e.g., Dear Professor…), use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and end with some sort of farewell (e.g., Sincerely or Thanks for your consideration, etc).  This may seem a bit old school to some but, ultimately, it’s just a polite way to communicate with people and will go a long way in taking the edge off.
  5. Be emoticon free. Related to a lack of professionalism, avoid anything that’s designed to show, explicitly, how angry you are.  Stay away from frowning faces, all capital letters, extra exclamation points, using bold or colored font, etc.  Assuming you are trying to change your instructor’s mind about something or alert him or her to a problem (see number six below), these sorts of superfluous elements only get in the way of your point. 
  6. Ask yourself why you are sending it. Make sure you are aware of the end result you are hoping for.  Do you want the instructor to change a grade, rethink a policy, or just to offer an explanation?  Regardless, make sure it’s clear to the instructor what you want.  Otherwise, it will just feel to him or her like useless venting.  If the point is just to vent, it’s probably better not to send it at all and find some other way to deal with your anger. 

By Ryan C. Martin
To ask a question of All the Rage, visit the Submit a Question link under Contact Us.

Thanks for Nothing, Mother Nature!

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As we approach Memorial Day weekend when people have many outdoor plans, it is common for people to voice frustration toward the weather.  This prompted several readers to request an explanation.  Specifically, readers want to know, “what’s the point of getting angry over something we can’t control?”

Anger over the weather occurs for the same reasons people get mad at anything they consider unpleasant.  The lack of control does not change anything and there are actually many examples of things outside of our control that make us angry (e.g., traffic, decisions made by employers, legislators or parents).  In fact, a lack of control is a common aspect of the anger experience because when people have control, they tend to exercise that control to try and solve the problem that is causing their frustration.

Ultimately, what is happening is that people perceive the weather as unfairly interfering with their goals.  Whether it is going for walks, having a picnic, or planning an outdoor party, people’s plans depend on the weather and anger is a very natural response to having one’s goals blocked.  The more important the event (e.g., a wedding), the more frustration the person is likely to feel (along with some other negative emotions).  Likewise, people seem to become angrier when there is bad weather on a weekend as compared to a weekday because it is more likely to disrupt their personal plans.

There are several things, though, that stand out with regard to anger at the weather.

Serious Complications. First, the weather is not always just an inconvenience.  For some, it disrupts their very livelihood.  Bad storms can destroy crops, can destroy homes, and even take lives.  These and other problems are not just mild hassles.  They are serious losses and anger is a very natural part of the grieving process.

Universality. There is a reason why weather is the go-to for small talk with strangers.  It is a shared event (i.e., everyone in a particular community is dealing with the same weather) so it is the one thing that people know they have in common with the grocery store clerk, bus driver, or random person on the elevator.  What this means with regard to anger is that there are many people you can vent to.  The problem is that venting tends to do little more than make the frustration greater, as people are reminding themselves throughout the day how irritating it all is.

No One to Blame. Finally, one interesting aspect of this sort of anger is that there is no one to blame for bad weather.  Most of the time when we get angry, there is a culprit (e.g., our boss, spouse, parent).  Even traffic can be pinned, at least in our minds, on the person who caused the accident, the other drivers, the person who designed the intersection, etc.  In this case, though, we do not have an offending party.  That does not stop us from trying to find one, though, as we often make up a wrongdoer to be the recipient of our frustration (e.g., the weatherman, Mother Nature, or even God).  Like anything, people will find a target for their weather-related angst.

By Ryan C. Martin
To ask a question of All the Rage, visit the Submit a Question link under Contact Us.

The Value of Humor in Frustrating Times

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I find that when I’m angry, it helps to find something to laugh about.  Is that true or am I just fooling myself?

Chances are you are right that the humor is helping you in those situations.  There’s a fair amount of evidence to suggest that humor and laughter are important coping mechanisms that can help people deal with a variety of psychosocial problems.   First, though, it’s important to understand a little bit about what people find funny and why they laugh. 

Humor is a particularly difficult concept to discuss and study for a variety of reasons. First, there are substantial differences with regard to what people find funny.  Many types of jokes (e.g., puns, ethnic jokes, dirty jokes, slapstick) are not appreciated by everyone or even most people.  Second, context matters greatly in that various aspects of the situation (e.g., who told the joke, the location, the circumstances) influence whether or not someone perceives something as funny.  Consequently, something that would be considered hilarious in one situation may not be funny at all in another.  Due to all of this, identifying the important elements of humor has been a challenge. 

Ultimately, one of the best definitions of humor comes, not from a psychologist but from the author, George Orwell.  Orwell wrote in his 1945 essay, Funny, but Not Vulgar, that “a thing is funny when — in some way that is not actually offensive or frightening — it upsets the established order.”  To put this in psychological terms, people find something to be funny when it is surprises them, forces them to think about things in a new way, and when they perceive it as edgy or daring.  However, once something moves past the threshold from edgy to “offensive or frightening”, it is no longer funny. 

What does all this mean for anger?  Well, it means that people can use humor to change their mood and to think about things in a new light.  By no means is this a new idea.  In fact, Dr. Jerry Deffenbacher, one of psychology’s leading anger researchers, wrote of the importance of humor in his 1995 book chapter, Ideal Treatment Package for Adults with Anger Disorders.  In the chapter, published in Anger Disorders: Definition, Diagnosis, and Treatment, Deffenbacher argues that using humor with clients might actually be considered a cognitive intervention, similar to cognitive restructuring where clients evaluate the types of thoughts they have which might be leading them to experience more anger.  He suggests that, as part of cognitive restructuring, clients should try to rethink things in silly or humorous ways.  However, he is quick to point out that anger is not always the answer and, if people use it, they should make sure it is (a) silly rather than hostile or sarcastic and (b) not designed to laugh off problems but “to take a brief cognitive step backward, perhaps laughing at themselves and their cognitions, to reduce their anger and then approach the situation again” (p. 169).

The next question, though, is why does humor work in reducing anger?   There are actually a couple of simple reasons for the psychosocial benefits of humor. 

Incompatible Mood States. Humor seems to decrease anger because, to some degree, the psychological state of finding something funny is incompaible with the psychological state of anger.  In other words, it’s hard to be angry while, simultaneously, finding something funny.  Even if it is just for a brief instant, when someone finds something funny and laughs, their anger has dissipated somewhat.  This is actually very similar to the rationale for why relaxation is so valuable in treating both anger and anxiety.  One cannot be anxious and relaxed at the same time.  It is also why humor has been found to be such an effective coping mechanism for so many negative psychological states (e.g., stress, fear, sadness).  Of course, as described by Deffenbacher, certain types of humor like sarcasm are less valuable because they do not necessarily lead to a different mood state but rather serve as an aggressive means of expressing anger.  

Conflict Management. Humor has long been used as a conflict management strategy.  It serves to lighten the mood, put others at ease, facilitate communication of difficult and angering topics, and even to help in the delivery of bad news.  In fact, people laugh more often at something they say than at something said by someone else.  It is not so much that they find what they are saying to be funny.  It is that laughter can convey the lightheartedness that might be necessary to decrease tension and anger in a particularly challenging interpersonal situation. 

Cognitive Shifting. Finally, as described by both Deffenbacher and Orwell, humor represents a different way of looking at things.  When people get angry, it’s because they perceive the situation as unfair, unjustified, etc. Humor allows people to think about the provocation in a new light and, potentially, one that is less angering.  Likewise, it also allows the angry person to think of themselves and their angering thoughts in a new way.  When highly emotional, people sometimes think unreasonable, unrealistic, and, frankly, silly things.  Taking time to recognize the silliness of your recent thought that the person in the car in front of you is a total idiot or that not being able to find your car keys ruined the entire day can help give you some much needed perspective and help you cope with frustrating situations.

By Ryan C. Martin
To ask a question of All the Rage, visit the Submit a Question link under Contact Us.