Montaigne On The Displacement Of Anger

In the essay, How the soul discharges its emotions against false objects when lacking real ones, Michel De Montaigne makes a simple and yet truthful observation. Often times people displace their anger upon an object or a thing that is not deserving of their feeling. This cathartic solution, however, does not address the real issue.

Seriously though, when our arm is raised to strike it pains use if the blow lands nowhere and merely beats the air; similarly, if a prospect is to be made pleasing it must not be dissipated and scattered over an airy void but have some object at a reasonable distance to sustain it.

From this, I understand one thing, that being the pleasure aspect involved in displacement. The strike is done in order to feel pleasure. Without striking something, that pleasure is not achieved and one still feels the effect of whatever that has caused them the negative emotion. We seek pleasure to cover the pain that was caused.

This hedonistic approach raises a question: how long does this pleasure stay? Pleasure comes and goes and so does pain. So once that pleasure is gone, you might need to strike again or perhaps by then, you can deal with whatever caused you the negative emotion but also, by then your conscious might have subdued the emotion allowing you to go on without confronting the displeasing thing.

Control your pleasure instinct, your reactionary instinct and address the situation properly.

Not otherwise does the bear in Pannonia: made more savage by the blow struck by the Libyan hunter with his dart tied to a leather thong, she rolls on her wound and attacks the weapon buried in her flesh and chases it round and round in circles as it flees from her.

Next time your emotions are running high, ask yourself, are they pointed at the right thing? This requires detaching from the situation. The task is not an easy thing to do, even the great emperors like Augustus and Kings like Xerxes attacked the storms and cursed the storms, in Xerxes’ case, had his men whip the sea water. If they can be tricked by their emotions into instant release, rather than proper one, then perhaps so can you.

But remember:

There is no point in getting angry against events: they are indifferent to our wrath.

Lastly, all this external blaming and violence leads to one thing, lack of ownership. Ownership that would allow one to “utter enough abuse against the unruliness of our minds”, as Montaigne puts it, saying that we often lack the ability to address the thing that caused the negative situation to happen. That being, ourselves. Our mind. Our habits. Our actions. Don’t take it out on other things or other people. Rather, turn that anger inwards and strike away at the unruliness in you.

Otherwise, you are merely distracting yourself from the main issue.


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