Sometimes I watch or find myself engaged in an altercation and see or sense a frustration that comes from another place altogether. This is most evidently observed online, i.e. “Internet outrage”. The thing at hand – this post, this comment, this incident even – isn’t the true source of that emotion, just the scapegoat on which it is temporarily fixated. A decade or so ago, we heard the term “road rage” just as frequently. I suspect the two phenomena – vocalising an emotion by directing it strangers on the street, or at 2D versions of people on the web – have the same origins.
But what is that emotion?
I’m choosing to write this not as an observer, but as someone with a deep wellspring of rage. Mine doesn’t manifest online too much, but I do have a temper that’s as easy to spark and as difficult to put out as a forest fire. I carry trauma in my body, and my hair falls constantly, my teeth clench often, the centres of my palms radiate pain, I go months without menses, I cannot sleep well, I don’t cry enough. It is the backlog of years. It is my burden, and my work to do. I carry trauma. This is my reason. But it is not my excuse.
I sit with my rage and feel my way through it. I know and name it, try to keep it out of others’ ways. I fail and look deeper. Something in me is always howling. It would be easy to howl out loud. It would also be wrong.
Recently, a dear one’s mother told me how stubborn she finds my friend. I had witnessed the disputes she was talking about. On the one hand, I understood her dismay. On the other, I knew very well where my friend’s surliness came from. And so this is what I told her: that they both worried about the same things. That loneliness manifests as irascibleness. That there are things we barely know how to express to ourselves, and these are the things that take on their own twisted expressions.
Shatter the mirror and see the kaleidoscope. Everyone is hurting. And almost every one of us is already doing the best we can, but that doesn’t absolve us from the need to do even better.
Every day, one tries. Every day, one can fail. Rage thoughtlessly externalised swallows whole; rage never expressed poisons slowly. Even if the work of healing comes to an end, the work of trying to be a better person never does. There is no benchmark beyond which one’s goodness is sacrosanct.
There’s a viral web poster that goes: “I meditate. I burn candles. I drink green tea, and I still want to smack some people.” Yes to all of the above. Rage is not hunger, to be so quickly quelled. The people we want to smack aren’t usually those who harmed us. The difference between a jerk and a self-aware person is in the answers to these questions: what do you do with that want? Who or what do you turn it towards? Who does it make you turn into?
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on September 22nd. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.