WARNING: How aggression can arise
L. comes out of the sun tan centre in a warm, relaxed mood, tensing his lats. He has parked his 1970 Cadillac Fleetwood Eldorado Hardtop Coupe safely in a side street where it won't be scratched. He unlocks the car, gets in, lovingly places his hands on the steering wheel and cruises carefully and slowly along the narrow pedestrian street, well aware of the uniqueness and power possessed by both the car and himself.
Two young women in their late twenties or so start making disparaging remarks: "Why doesn't he get a move on, he's blocking the whole road. What a prat, maybe he's afraid he might scratch his paintwork." L., who had been expecting admiration and receives only derision, immediately feels anger rising, lowers the window and surprises himself by shouting loudly at the two women: "Hey you two, who the hell do you think you are? Want a clip round the ear?" The two women walk on quickly without looking back, timidly hunching their shoulders and drawing in their heads. L. registers this with some satisfaction and blips the throttle, which produces a parting roar of warning from the 8.2-litre engine to hasten them on their way.
Just a minute, L. says to himself two blocks further on, what made me so aggressive all of a sudden? I was almost ready to shove those two off the street with my front bumper. L. has been working on his own self-development for a number of years to keep his aggression under control, as it has got him into a number of unpleasant situations in the past. So what was that all about this time? L. wonders to himself, as he has meanwhile learned to observe his own behaviour and take a more objective view of himself. My Si-Fu is right: when the beast inside me rears its head, that's the best time to observe it on the open range, for when the beast is asleep there's nothing to study. Negotiating that very narrow street with my 6-metre long Cadillac, did I feel I was such a wonderful driver that the remarks of those two girls made me angry because they were making fun of my driving skills? Or what was it that made me so furious?
By making those unnecessary remarks, those two nearly brought on a minor disaster and provoked me into doing something I would not normally be capable of.
L. may be tall and well-muscled, but he is a university graduate and a cultured, highly civilised individual despite his weakness for enormous American cars. He could never contemplate striking a woman, so why did he threaten to do just that? Why was he tempted to give them a shove with his front bumper?
Still thinking about the incident, which seems to stick in his mind, L. decides to park his dream car and have a coffee in his favourite café to calm down. On his way to the café after parking the pedestrian light is red, but since there is no car anywhere in sight he sees no point in kowtowing, and quickly crosses the narrow road next to the pedestrian crossing at which three people are obediently waiting. "Well you're setting a fine example to this child, aren't you," comes a withering comment by a woman accompanied by her husband and an approx. 9 year-old boy.
The rebuke instantly gives rise to blind fury, L. notices that his hands are clenched into fists, the beast has awoken in him again and is looking for a victim:
Hey, you clever-dick of an old cow, did I tell you to have a kid? Did I ever say I wanted to be an example to your brat? But maybe the boy would be better off taking an example from me than from your prat of a husband, who should shut your big mouth for you before somebody else does! – that's what he feels like saying, but he catches himself in time and merely replies in the friendliest possible manner, and without a trace of irony: "Thanks for putting me straight". He knows full well how things are likely to develop otherwise: The pitiable "prat" of a husband, who is always told off at home because he misses his aim when taking a pee and doesn't take out the rubbish bags, will feel obliged to play the lord protector, which means that I will end up hitting him and the street will be transformed into screaming pandemonium and I could end up in front of a judge – and all because the temptation to assert one's civic rights and act as an auxiliary policeman is no longer exclusively a male bastion.
L. sits in the café and thinks things over: Somehow my aggressive reactions have something to do with the fact that I am a big, strong man and smaller, weaker women have had the nerve to criticise me. Perhaps the problem is that they were women? Or would I have been just as angry if weaker men had made remarks? – Yes, that would have been the same. Weaker people should not take liberties with stronger ones, that's the law of nature. Nobody should be allowed to upset the status quo, and the weak must respect the strong, at least out here on the street.
At work the pale-faced leptosom of an office manager may be the one in charge, but out here on the open range nobody is interested in his salary slip or his reserved parking space with the name badge on it. Out here he needs to take a modest back seat when he encounters real men who can bench-press over 150 kg and measure 43 cm around the biceps. These are the unwritten laws that every person must know and obey if he does not want to rock the boat and be brought back into line.
Of course that mother was in the right, that was clear to him. He had behaved incorrectly, for in most countries it is simply not done to cross the street against a red light.
However he had just returned from a holiday in London, where even the police do not intervene if somebody crosses the road on red without endangering the traffic. They are just not so inflexible and self-important as – say – the Germans, L. thinks, having studied philosophy for a few terms.
How would I like it, L. asked himself, if everybody in my position was able to decide for himself, on the basis of the traffic situation, whether to respect the red pedestrian light or not? In doing so he unconsciously made use of Kant's categorical imperative, arriving at the conclusion that he would feel more free living in such a country.
But the woman thought she had to put him on the spot in front of her husband and son, and in his view she was much more at fault than he because the consequences of her remark might have led to a disaster. If he had been one of those hero types, the son of a culture where honour comes above everything, then he would have had to slap the husband's face to wash away the insult with blood. But of course the woman had been careful to check who she was dealing with, and she would certainly not have summoned up the nerve with a Hell's Angel. She had broken the rules in the safe knowledge that he was a gentleman, and civilised enough not to offer violence to a woman. In doing this she had not concerned herself about the turbulent emotional state in which he might have got into his car afterwards; he might well have been so on edge that the slightest further provocation could have led to aggressive driving and an accident.
When L. told me this story I asked him what the situation and his response might have been if a bear of a man had growled at a similarly huge lumberjack type with a check-shirt, "Why doesn't he get a move on, the prat's blocking the whole road." Nothing would have happened, L. answered after thinking about it. He would have said something self-confident but not disrespectful, casually raised his hand in greeting, grinned at his "colleague" and driven on.
So in the final analysis, what was the reason for L's aggression? The fact that he considered himself superior!
"Feeling" superior makes one aggressive towards the weaker person who does not respect the order that has been genetically programmed into us for millions of years. This aggression – in the case of dogs it would take the form of growling – is intended to tell the other party: "Respect my ancient rights, otherwise I will be forced to teach you a lesson!". If this growling (a form of aggression which is intended to avoid a fight) is not heeded, the warning becomes a display of force. If we wish to stop this unconscious process once it has started, we only have a right of veto for 0.2 seconds. If we do not make use of it because we are too angry or drunk, we are obliged to strike. The fact that fear of punishment, social disapproval and an unpleasant scene, or in rare but ideal cases understanding and the will to do good usually prevent disaster from occurring is a matter for discussion elsewhere.
There have recently been media reports about a juvenile who felt slighted and stabbed two kids of similar age in response, which illustrates the potential danger and our animal origins.
How can this problem be addressed? In the most fortunate case, if two people encounter one another and at least one of them has worked on personal self-development. Either the weaker one, whether man or woman, so that he/she is able to find an affinity with the mental and emotional world of the other person, or the stronger one who is aware enough not to react mechanically all the time. Let's hope that whoever they are, they will recognise the aggressiveness and remember rather than forget themselves!
The road to achieving this is firstly to be aware that we are not better than somebody else, which brings any feeling of superiority back into proportion, secondly regular self-observation and thirdly the technique of so-called divided attention, which prevents us from "forgetting ourselves".
I shall be speaking about this next time.
Finally I would like to apologise to my female readers for the seemingly anti-feminine thoughts of our "hero". In fact I know him very well, and he quite the opposite of a misogynist. But he certainly is a winner, for he has vanquished himself.
I had to set L. straight in one respect: if somebody hits me in the face and thereby injures me physically, I can no doubt say that the blame is his. But is somebody wounds me with an insult the blame is mine alone, as I alone have chosen to have "hurt feelings" among several alternatives. Neither the two young women with their remarks, nor the authoritarian mother were to blame for his anger. They did not arouse him to anger, he aroused himself to anger – they only provided the impulse. He had the freedom (for whose use he deserves praise) either to respond mechanically or to "borrow" the power of this anger to remember of himself.
Keith R. Kernspecht