Few people have studied the life and writings of Seneca as deeply as James Romm has. Romm is the author of a great biography of Seneca, Dying Every Day, a translation of Seneca’s various thoughts on death, How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life, and his newest work, How To Keep Your Cool: An Ancient Guide to Anger Management, presenting one of Seneca’s most timely essays, On Anger.
Each of us should take a minute to think back, even in just the past week, to the times we’ve been angry or short-tempered and think, "Has this ever served me well?" The answer very very rarely yes. Anger, as Seneca says, always makes things worse: “No plague has cost the human race more dear.” But it’s a hard emotion to combat. It’s natural, often almost instinctual.
In our interview with Romm, we wanted some real practical tips about managing our anger, so we asked what he thought was Seneca’s best piece of advice:
My own favorite is summed up in the quote: "Do you want to be less angry? Be less aware." Anger often starts from noticing too many subtleties of the way others interact with us. In many cases, we'd do better not to notice the slights and microaggressions that can drive us nuts if we let them. One can will oneself to ignore such things—a practice many long-married couples will instantly recognize!
Today, when you feel that anger start to boil up—someone cuts you off in traffic, your computer glitches when you just can’t afford it to, the waitress messes up your order despite very careful instructions—stop, step back, and ask yourself, what if I didn’t pay any attention to that? What if I hadn’t noticed? Would I still be bothered? Would I need to be this angry? It brings to mind what Marcus said, “You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you.”
Because you don’t have to be aware of it.