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April 2, 2022

What the “Will Smith punching Chris Rock” Incident can Teach us about our Own Anger.

Most of you must have heard about Will Smith punching Chris Rock at the Oscar ceremony because of a joke the latter made about his wife.

I’m pretty sure Will Smith is a good person, but what he did shows that he could not control himself, and that is going to give him trouble in the future.

Unfortunately, many in the West would behave in the same way in the same situation, and some would not even see anything wrong with it.

I lived in Brunei and Malaysia and traveled widely in Southeast Asia for 15 years now. One thing that really struck me and that I immediately loved when I first arrived in this part of the world was that Southeast Asians hardly ever got angry, and, perhaps related to this, petty crime is low. One can go about anywhere at any time feeling safe. After such a long time, I still strongly appreciate this attitude toward life.

I come from a culture where getting mad is considered kind of normal. It seems to me that most people in the West believe that losing their temper is something unavoidable and perhaps necessary to counter (real or perceived) injustice. You can obtain what you want through shouting and verbal aggression if necessary. I’ve witnessed this again and again in my own country, Italy, when shopping, for example, or when driving around. I’ve even seen people coming to blows for a minor car accident!

I’ve hardly seen anybody getting angry in the 15 years that I’ve lived here. On the other hand, there have been occasions when I’ve witnessed mothers in Italy shouting and even slapping their children in public. But no matter how naughty some children may be, people in Southeast Asia would withstand their children’s tantrums or naughtiness stoically.

“How come this difference?” I’ve always asked myself. Of course, not everybody gets angry so easily in Europe or America, and some may occasionally get publicly angry in this region as well, but the difference is nevertheless noteworthy.

At first, I thought it might be religion, but different religions are widespread in Southeast Asia—Buddhism and Islam above all, but also Hinduism and Christianity. Or perhaps it’s these people’s nature that has influenced the way their religions are interpreted and lived, particularly Buddhism. It’s difficult to say. More likely, it is the greater capacity of these people to “let go,” to adapt more easily to the situations they find themselves in. It seems to me that most people here are not so attached to the ideas of “if” or “should,” such as “for me to be happy, this should be like this,” or “if I don’t get this, I won’t be happy.”

In any case, it’s a fact that anger or hate is considered one of the three “poisons” in Buddhism, the other two being desire/attachment and ignorance.

In Buddhism, particularly Theravada Buddhism, these are seen as the three main causes of suffering and unhappiness in the world. I feel that in the West, many people actually enjoy the sense of power, strength, and superiority that getting angry may provide. And then some don’t want to be seen as “cowards” if they don’t react the way other people expect them to. They really believe that problems and injustices can be solved through anger and even violence. Perhaps this may be true at times, even though I believe that problems solved in such a way will recur again at some point.

What many do not realize fully is that anger poisons the mind and our happiness, and that of the people around us as well. In the Buddhist Dhammapada, there is a whole chapter devoted to anger, chapter 17.

Here are some passages (from Thomas Byrom’s translation):

“Anger is like a chariot careering wildly.”

“He who curbs his anger is the true charioteer.”

“Others merely hold the reins…”

“With gentleness overcome anger.”

“With generosity overcome meanness.”

“With truth overcome deceit…”

“Beware of the anger of the body.”

“Master the body.”

“Let it serve truth.”

“Beware of the anger of the mouth.”

“Master your words.”

“Let them serve truth.”

“Beware of the anger of the mind.”

“Master your thoughts.”

“Let them serve truth.”

When we are angry, we cannot think straight. We do stupid things we’ll probably feel sorry about when anger subsides (like in Will Smith‘s case).

How many murderers are there in prison who regret their whole life having lost control at some point because of anger? I pity them, and their victims, of course.

Anger is a natural feeling, of course, but not all natural feelings are positive and lead to peace and happiness. Obviously, repressing feelings doesn’t help. According to Buddhism, whenever we start feeling angry, we should mindfully observe that anger, see how it develops and acts in our minds and bodies, while at the same time trying to distance ourselves from it until it subsides. Not easy, but possible with some practice.

It seems to me that wars are none else than whole countries getting angry at other countries, often for petty reasons.

As many wise people have remarked, we cannot avoid wars if there’s a war inside us, and that war is envy, fear, helplessness, and above all, anger and hate.

I strongly believe that we would live in a better world if anger and hate (together with attachment and ignorance) were not dominating our lives and societies.

 

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