Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

A Red Rag To A Bull

Elm House, Napa, California, USA

August 21, 2013

"You're never angry with who you're angry with. You're angry with who you're angry with reminds you of." ... Laurence Platt

This essay, A Red Rag To A Bull, is the companion piece to

We're most ourselves when we're making distinctions. We're most who we really are when we're making distinctions. We're most human  when we're making distinctions. The essential  thing which distinguishes we human beings is our ability to distinguish. In this regard, there's a certain distinction which is so fundamental  that making it has the power to transform Life. It's a distinction which is simple  enough to make. Yet making it isn't easy. If making it were easy, the world would be transformed by now. What it is is distinguishing who we aren't from who we are.

A colleague of mine is visiting with me at the amazing Cowboy Cottage in the Napa Valley, the wine country  in California where I live. As we gaze out over the cattle pasture, he opens up enough to share a recent episode in which he became angry. He isn't righteous about it. I can tell he regrets it. He shares how it left him disempowered and more than a little embarrassed. Given the work environment in which it occurred and the work associates who witnessed his outburst, he suspects there'll be costs and consequences for him in the long run which will soon materialize.

He says "The worst thing about it is I had no idea  I have such anger.". And I say "You're totally mistaken. You don't have anger.". "What do you mean?" he asks, sounding more than a little perplexed.". "You don't have anger" I repeat. "Anger has you. That's  the problem.".

He opens his mouth as if to respond ... then closes it again. It's a few moments before he says anything more. A herd of cattle comes into view, stands still, then starts grazing. "I get it" he says finally, ruefully. And he does  get it - I can tell. "So what's next?" he asks rhetorically to no one in particular, "Anger management?". "If you say so" I offer. "What that will teach you is how to deal  with your anger. If you deal with your anger, it will deal with you. Like a lovers' embrace, you're entangled with it forever.". To say he looks forlorn  at this point is an understatement. He looks outright dejected.

"Try this" I say. "Try distinguishing  your anger. It's not who you are, but you're responsible for it. When you distinguish your anger, you  have anger - it  doesn't have you. When you have it, you can be responsible for it. When you're responsible for it, you can clean up whatever there is for you to clean up as a result of your anger, with whomever there is to clean it up. Right now, anger has you. You don't have it. So it's impossible for you to be responsible for it - which makes it impossible for you to clean up whatever there is to clean up as a result of it.

There's more: when you distinguish your anger, who you are, the distinguisher, becomes the major player. Until you distinguish your anger, anger is the major player. When anger is the major player it consumes  you, and who you are (for all intents and purposes) is lost. Listen: there's only one thing worse than being consumed by anger: being consumed by anger and  losing who you are.".

Another silence. The cattle move to a new grazing patch a few yards away. Then he says "I see that. I get that. The trouble is it just starts all by itself.". "No it doesn't" I say. "Anger is never in the moment. Anger is always  triggered by a reminder of something that happened in the past. The current situation, whatever it is (and it doesn't matter what  it is), is simply a red rag to a bull.".

From the Cambridge International Dictionary:

be like a red rag to a bull
to be certain to produce an angry or violent reaction

Here's the thing: a bull can't make distinctions  the results of which alter its behavior. We human beings can. You and I possess within ourselves, at every moment of our lives, under all circumstances, the power to make distinctions (as Werner Erhard may have said). Regarding anger and being angry, here are three essential distinctions to make:

 1)  distinguish your anger (who you aren't) from who you are, and
 2)  distinguish who / what you're angry with reminds you of, and
 3)  distinguish who / what you're angry with, from who / what it reminds you of.

Distinguishing, like a paintbrush for a painter, is the essential tool for a human being. Anger and being angry, once distinguished, lose their power. Once they've lost their power, it's only our choice  to continue keeping them around which keeps them around - or not. A red rag to a bull can't be distinguished by the bull as just a red rag. We human beings, on the other hand, should we choose to exercise it, always  have the power to distinguish anger as anger. We have the power to distinguish anger and being angry as who we aren't, and in so doing disempower it.

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