Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor

Scott Monty - Strategic Communications & Leadership Advisor


Anger (Ira) from The Seven Deadly Sins by Pieter van der Heyden, after Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1558 (Wikimedia Commons - public domain)

“There is no more stupefying thing than anger, nothing more bent on its own strength. If successful, none more arrogant, if foiled, none more insane—since it’s not driven back by weariness even in defeat, when fortune removes its adversary it turns its teeth on itself.
— Seneca, c. 42


It’s so easy to get worked up and wallow in a grievance.

A perceived slight, unfair advantage, or other complaint, real or imagined, can consume us if we allow it.

Consider Aesop’s fable about The Oxen and the Wheels.

A pair of Oxen were drawing a heavily loaded wagon along a miry country road. They had to use all their strength to pull the wagon, but they did not complain.

The Wheels of the wagon were of a different sort. Though the task they had to do was very light compared with that of the Oxen, they creaked and groaned at every turn. The poor Oxen, pulling with all their might to draw the wagon through the deep mud, had their ears filled with the loud complaining of the Wheels. And this, you may well know, made their work so much the harder to endure.

“Silence!” the Oxen cried at last, out of patience. “What have you Wheels to complain about so loudly? We are drawing all the weight, not you, and we are keeping still about it besides.”


Aesop’s lesson is that those who complain most are usually those who suffer least.

And, more importantly, when we surround ourselves with complainers, we can become overwhelmed with their negativity.

“Throughout the world, the more wrong a man does, the more indignant is he at wrong done to him.”
— Anthony Trollope

Consider those you hear or read throughout your day—those who complain of being wronged or marginalized. Are they really?

Or are those against whom they carry their grudge—those who were overlooked or stepped on thanks to previous oversights and biases—simply being given more opportunities than they were before, and that’s what’s driving the anger?


Grievance Works

Research shows that animosity at out-groups (those who are outside of our own social or ideological realm) drives more likes, shares, and comments.

Or more simply put, enragement equals engagement.

As a disgruntled employee or customer, it’s easy to give in to your bitterness and feed that anger. Without any kind of intervention, updates, or communication from those in charge, we find ourselves stoking the embers of our anger until they erupt into flame.

“Dread attends the unknown.”
— Nadine Gordimer, 1998

Without regular communication and empathy, were doomed to assume the worst and continue the pattern.

Some leaders find ways to manipulate people with fear and anger, but this is cheap and easy—clickbait for the masses. It will yield results, but long-term it’s neither healthy nor helpful.

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
— Yoda

Defusing the Anger Bomb

Think about that member of your staff who seems constantly annoyed or angry. Maybe they’re the resident pessimist.

And the thing with pessimists is they sound smart. They place their certainty in things that have happened or things at which they can definitively point.

But at a certain point, we need to place our belief in what might be possible. It’s how we built the Brooklyn Bridge and landed on the Moon. Through dreamers, optimists, and those who refused to let anger or pessimism hold them back.

Instead of anger, you can keep people engaged with hope in what might be possible.

And when enough people believe, they can work together to achieve more.

And that’s a much lighter load to carry than a grievance.

Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.

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