The Angry Man

When I was at the citizen’s shop to validade some documents, I saw a man come in, and I guessed right away that he was going to have problems.

I don’t know for sure what led me to think so, but I dare say it was his expression. The man, in exercise gear and with a backlog slung over his shoulder, looked as if he had just come out of the nearest gym, but he was far from carrying with him the good mood of a completed workout.

He came in with an air of disgust and impatience – a bad way to enter a waiting room where there are already two dozen people.

Why did I assume that he would have problems? Experience tells me that bad things happen to angry people. 

I will not philosophize about the mechanisms by which this happens. Spiritual people will say that it is karma, the esoteric-minded will blame the law of attraction, and the more scientific will point out that the perception and filtering of the stimuli of the outer world is altered by mood and would have exposed the man to the misfortunes of inattention.

I, for my part, observe it consistently. And that is enough for me, for I am not writing a thesis; I have a heuristic that works and only has to be reevaluated on the day it stops working.

The truth is that after having gone up to the counter a couple of times to make sure that the public servant wouldn’t forget to call his ticket, he ended up stepping out – maybe to get some fresh air – at the time said ticket was called. And when he came back, the person who was managing that table had just left to enjoy her lunch hour.

Of course he shouted, and cursed, and had some choice words about the quality of public service. And there might even be some truth when it comes to the latter observation. And even if there wasn’t, I always like to give people the benefit of the doubt.

After all, when a person is unpleasant near us (or with us) we don’t know the path they have traveled. They may be arriving on the heels of a serious problem – the illness of a relative, a dismissal from work, a robbery at home.

But one thing is for sure: in a room full of people, most of whom had been waiting there for much longer than the man had, no one felt any sympathy. Certainly, some were even silently satisfied with his loss. I grew up in a generation where it was fashionable to say that we shouldn’t  care about what others thought about us. But that’s not a useful perspective. Life goes better when people like us. And no one likes an angry person.

What about him? Did his day get better because he screamed, cajoled and cursed? I don’t think so. People say it’s okay to get things out of your system, but science doesn’t agree – what we put out there defines us, more than anything. And what defines us, we repeat in our head. Countless times.

And with an angry person inside your head all day, why would you expect things to go well?

Painting: Septimius Severus and Caracalla, by Jean-Baptiste Greuze.