Excerpt from Freedom from Anger by Venerable Sumanasara.
1. You Have the Power to be Happy. As you can see, our feelings are subject to powerful influences from the outside world. But, to be clear, information from the outside world by itself does not orient our attitude; we do. We are free to accept or resist or disregard external influence. For example, an elderly person who sees youngsters with punk hairstyles and piercings might not choose to adopt the style.
I assume that now we can understand the responsibility of the individual. Acceptance or rejection lies within ourselves. Every decision to feel love or anger is up to the person. Becoming angry is never someone else’s doing; anger is always one’s own fault.
If we look at this a certain way, we can see that this is good news, or at least a glimmer of light in the darkness. For you have the power to free your mind from anger and choose only to feel love and happiness. This is truly possible. Buddhism teaches that those of us who have been born human should make this our ultimate goal.
2. We Get Angry Because We Think We are Right. Why do we get angry when we know that it’s better not to? There are many reasons that people become angry, but if we look at them all, they share a common trait: a person deciding to become angry based on his or her own arbitrary preferences or judgments.
People tend to believe that they are right, and so they become angry with anyone who disagrees with them. If you think the other person is right, you will not get angry. Remember this. We feel anger because we think, “I am right. Other people are wrong.” When we become angry with others, it’s due to this belief that we are correct and they are mistaken.
Though, of course, someone who tends toward anger might also get angry when he realizes that the other guy is right— because he feels he is the only one who ought to be right.
But what of instances in which a person becomes angry at himself? In fact, this is exactly the same. People can become furious at themselves when they fail to accomplish something they set out to do or when things don’t go as they wish, and in both cases they are angry because they thought they were right. People get upset with themselves when things don’t go well at work or at home, thinking, “But I’m perfect and experienced! How could I spoil that recipe?” or “I never make mistakes at work. How could I let this happen?”
3. The “I Am Right” Attitude is Concealed. Does this attitude of always being right make any sense? Are we even aware of this attitude? If I were to walk up to someone and ask, “Would you say that you are perfect? That you are always correct?” the person would undoubtedly say something like, “No, of course not. I make mistakes all the time!” But then if I said, “Oh, so you’re just another fool?” you can be sure he would get angry. I would have hurt that person’s feelings. You can see the paradox here. People will admit to being flawed and imperfect out of humility as a matter of course, but inside themselves they are thinking all the while, “I don’t believe it for a second. I’m never wrong. Everybody else is.” This feeling, this attitude, does not reveal itself and appear in our consciousness. It works in the background of our mind.
Think about it—mothers get angry with their children, teachers with students, and bosses with their staff. The children, students, and employees may indeed be doing something wrong, but the mothers, teachers, and bosses seek to normalize their anger while they yell: “You did something wrong, so I’m mad at you!” In fact, it would be enough just to smile and say, “You made a mistake here. Please don’t do it again.” So why get angry? It’s because people believe that they are correct, that their words are perfectly clear and true, as are their thoughts.