Human time bombs are in our midst.
No, not Palestinian suicide bombers fed on Intifada, or subversive al-Qaida operatives within our borders. These human grenades are homegrown.
We all know one – we may live with one, or be one. They detonate for reasons so miniscule, shell-shocked observers puzzle, “What did I say – or do?”
At any given moment, somewhere, someone explodes in a rage, producing a debris field that staggers and often injures others.
Not a righteous rage, mind you, as was fitting after the unprovoked attack of Sept. 11 – nor when Moses raged at the Hebrews, who switched allegiance from God to golden calf just before the Ten Commandments were issued.
Neither is rage the momentary impatient ire, as was the case on the last Olympic weekend in Salt Lake City, when revelers couldn’t get into a beer garden.
Incendiary anger is “the emotional response to a grievance, real or imaginary, that is totally out of proportion to the circumstances,” says Mitchell H. Messer, executive director of the Anger Clinic, in Chicago. “It is unexpected and irrational.”
Last year, in a case of golf rage, a rare black swan waddled too close to the 17th hole at Donald Trump’s posh Palm Beach, Fla., golf course. A crazed golfer, having a very bad game, clubbed the bird to death with a driver.
Rage plagues society: surfing rage, workplace rage, air rage, fishing rage, roommate rage and even pedestrian rage.
Serenity in the Colorado Rockies was shattered by recent cases of “slope rage.” In Vail, a skier who advised snowboarders against riding outside of ski-area boundaries was beaten. A female skier was shoved off a Breckenridge lift while innocently commenting on skier camaraderie. One at Copper Mountain was slugged in the face with a ski pole.
“Checkout-counter rage” erupted in Lowell, Mass. One shopper allegedly clocked another who carted one too many items into the express line.
“Go ahead, keep honking; I’m reloading!” was a bumper sticker response to the California road-rage outbreak in the late 1980s. Enraged drivers reading that bumper sticker drive Fiats, Ferraris and clunkers. “No one class has a monopoly on rage,” says Messer.
Why this volatility in such unlikely and dissimilar surroundings and citizens?
Violent outbursts are seldom related to status or the situation at hand. They can be likened to the chewed-out employee who goes home and kicks his snoozing pooch.
Yet, rage is more: It’s a sub-surface seething born of a long-ago, profound offense.
Was it abuse, rejection or neglect? Whatever it was, personhood was severely devalued, with the byproduct being volcanic anger – ready to ignite from within.
“A small present grievance is compounded by that past grievance, that recollection,” says Messer. Each minor misunderstanding or insult reinforces earlier feelings of worthlessness.
Eventually, the combustible buildup can no longer be contained.
“The inner fuse produces a Mt. St. Helens kind of rage,” says California clinical psychologist Robert Puff, author of “Anger Work: How to Express Your Anger and Still Be Kind.”
Cartoon character “The Incredible Hulk” comes to mind. He says, “Don’t make me angry; you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” just before he expands and explodes into a menacing green monster. David Banner, The Hulk’s alter ego, never discovers a cure for the interior trigger, and rages on.
Unlike the Hulk, can we diffuse ourselves? Some chronic detonators mistake their anger’s intensity for power. They refuse to recognize and relinquish it.
“Counseling and the kindness of friends heal early wounds,” says Colorado clinical psychologist, William J. Maier. A new value supplants our negative self-image and expels that internal time bomb.
Ultimately, rage must be replaced by inner peace, a state of grace that only comes to men and women in communion with their Creator. “If we know we have innate value from God,” says Dr. Puff, a Princeton graduate, “that (awareness) transcends anything the world can throw at us.”
Mitchell Messer calls rage “a cancer of the personality.” Yet, providentially, we are not trapped in that rage; freedom and renewal await. Whether secular or spiritual, we have a way of escape.
But we must choose to take it.