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Necessary Anger, Richard Sherman, and Self-Mastery

Disclaimer: Those who have read past posts know that I’m not a Seattle Seahawks fan, really could care less who is in the Super Bowl from the NFC and as a die hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan already “won” once the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots were eliminated from playing in the big game.

Cheers to the Seattle Seahawks for representing the NFC and Richard Sherman for being as big a story (perhaps bigger) off the field as he was on the field. There is Erin Andrews; supposedly surprised that Richard Sherman had an emotional outburst after making the biggest play in the biggest game of his career. Truth be told, a select few will ever play NFL football and an even smaller number will ever play at the level Sherman is at the moment. Yet and still Sherman and his post game interview are the subject of much debate with people split on whether or not his behavior was understandable or outrageous. I would ask people to pay attention to his interview with Terry Bradshaw after the Andrews interview and then his follow up interview with the Fox football staff. Instead of a wild-eyed maniac you will find a coherent, justifiably excited, perhaps even humble Sherman who acknowledges his team’s accomplishment above anything else. So how was Sherman one way on the field of play and another only a few short minutes after the clock read all zeroes? My answer may surprise you:

Self Mastery.

In the moment of an admittedly violent, hyper competitive game of modern day gladiators, Sherman is not distinctive from any other player on the field. Yet in interviews following the same game the Stanford graduate can present much differently. This perplexes many of us because we are taught that emotions like anger, feelings of competitiveness, and bragging are incorrect for polite men and women. Let’s take care of the easy one first. Let you who has never given yourself credit for a good job or told someone how good your are at your job, or looked in a mirror and told yourself you looked good, or posted a picture of how good you thought you looked for others to see and “like” cast the first stone. That probably takes care of bragging. As for competition, what better place is there for competitiveness than an organized game played by professional athletes? Anger however, is a more difficult one for many of us to evaluate. Anger is largely viewed as a lower emotion that our higher-minded selves should be above. We associate anger with a loss of control. We think that if we choose anger, we will make potentially irrevocable mistakes.

But what if everything we’re thinking about anger is wrong? In fact, what if we saw anger as a way to provide fuel to get things done? What if we saw anger as something we could channel when appropriate and in appropriate situations? What if we saw anger as a tool in our emotional toolkit that could be used to handle tough jobs nothing else can? Well then it could be said we are on the Richard Sherman level.

This level is about finding the appropriate emotional, mental and physical response for the situation at hand. This is the level where we are able to find the value of anger, use it as necessary, and shed it just as easily as a jacket we’re wearing. This is hard because our society tells us not to be angry and that nothing good can come from it. To many, being considered angry can be seen as an insult in it of itself. In fact, there are many African American men that detest nothing more than to be considered an “angry black man”. Why have we decided that anger is so bad? Part of it is that we are socialized into viewing any and everything in terms of strict dichotomy of either vs. or. We are happy or sad, fast or slow, or angry or mild mannered. Additionally, we associate one attribute as positive and the other as negative. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can smash through all dichotomies and remove the “either vs. or” and replace it with a “both and” perspective. If you are personally interested in having anger work for you, consider the following:

  1. Realize your emotions are not you – We are taught to identify with our emotions. When people ask us how we are doing, we typically respond with, “happy”, or “sad”, or “angry”. When we choose an emotion as a description of who and what we are, we are actually disempowering ourselves. If you are in the habit of doing this, as many of us are, don’t beat yourself up but consider how the core of what you are be anything except at absolute peace with the option of myriad emotions? Those familiar with emotional intelligence will recognize that part of emotional mastery is being able to separate our emotions from our identity. Only by doing this are we truly able to choose how we respond to life’s external pressures.

  1. Realize your emotions are fuel to your actions, but not the driver All of our emotions can lead to certain actions. When we are choosing happiness, we may be more likely to help others. When we are choosing anger, we may be more likely to engage challenges directly and totally. In either case, the emotion may provide us motivation to behave in a certain way but our mind still has control of what those actions are. For example, when someone cuts you off on the highway, you can choose to honk your horn, speed up to cut him or her off, or ram him or her with your car. Whatever the action is, the decision of what to do is in your hands. When people respond or react and have not thought out what their response or reaction is going to be this is known as an “emotional hijack”. You can tell if you’ve been emotionally hijacked if you find yourself apologizing for something you’ve done or said.

  1. Realize that all your emotions have a time and a place of your choosing – Keep in mind that the goal is not to hide, bury, or avoid any emotions, but instead to manage these emotions to maintain a balance in our lives. Emotions are to be reckoned with, thoughtfully measured, and ultimately chosen with a clear mind and heart. As Aristotle said, ‘Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power, that is not easy.’

Consider the above as you review the role anger has played and could play in your life. If something suggested actually bothered, you, in the immortal words, of Richard Sherman, “U mad bro”?

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