“The greatest remedy for anger is delay.” Seneca – Anger Management
How should we act when we are angry?
Anger is one of those emotions that we say is inherently dangerous and unpredictable. When we’re angry, we are told to walk away or breathe to allow the intense feelings to pass. Yet, sometimes getting angry is actually a wise strategy, especially if we feel that we or our loved ones are in danger. Quick action is the better remedy. Our students should learn how and when to use anger to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts with Shawn McCusker, Director of Professional Learning at Digital Promise, for a conversation about the power of anger and how we know when expressing it is the right thing to do or when it may get us into more trouble than we bargained for.
Hello, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We’re veteran educators who’ve created the Teach Different podcast to inspire all of us to think deeper, listen with more intention, and understand each other better. On this podcast we model a conversation method using claims, counterclaims, essential questions, and quotes from some of the world’s great thinkers. This method works with adults and students of all ages, at school or at home, and is implemented using Google forms. So, if you’re a teacher, parent, administrator, social emotional learning specialist, or anybody who wants to think in new ways and help others do the same, then you’ve come to the right place.
Dan Fouts: 0:44
Hey! Welcome everybody to the Teach Different podcast. This week we’re excited to have a really interesting quote on anger management by Seneca, a Roman and stoic philosopher. We’re going to get to that in a moment. We have one guest today, Shawn McCusker, who will be introducing himself when he weighs in on the claim of the quote. For those new to the podcast, we’re going to walk through our method. The mission is to help kids and adults learn how to think better. The way to do that is to work through what a claim is, then what a counterclaim is, pushing against your original idea or disagreeing with yourself. That’s really important in the context of a conversation, because it gets you to see the world from different perspectives. That’s what Teach Different is about. We need more of that in our society now. The last part of the method is an essential question for you to incorporate into an activity or lesson.
Now, we’re doing this as adults, sort of adult SEL, but naturally, we encourage you to use this quote and this method in your own classroom with your own students. That’s when the real magic happens. Here’s the quote from Seneca,“The greatest remedy for anger is delay.” Who has an idea on this one?
Shawn: 2:28 – Claim
I’ll go ahead and jump in. I’m Shawn McCusker, the director of professional learning for Digital Promise. We provide resources to underserved and underfunded schools across America. The thing I like about this quote is that it’s like something my friend used to say, some problems can only be healed through the great application of time. In the immediacy things seem insurmountable and overwhelmingly passionate. How often do you solve big problems by throwing emotion at them? This sounds like a call for people to seek rational thoughtfulness, because in our immediacy we tend to work with our hearts, but I feel like our solutions are generally when our head can be informed by our hearts rather than vice versa.
Steve Fouts: 3:23
I like the way you broke it down. I’m thinking about the word remedy. That’s an interesting word to me. Shawn, sometimes we’ll do this, we’ll picture ourselves in a classroom full of students writing this quote on the board. You want to have them start with the claim. Sometimes it’s good to just step back and circle a word or two that you think are worth talking about. This allows people to consider that it’s not the easiest definition out there, and it might be something to talk about to get everybody on the same page. You mentioned healing, Shawn, if I heard you right. I picked up on this idea of remedy and my first thought was is this medicine or what’s the illness? What is it that needs to be corrected? It’s obvious that it’s anger. That’s what first struck me about it. The healing for anger is to just pause. Anger is seen, not as an illness, but something that is negative. I think there’s a negative slant on anger in the quote.
Dan Fouts: 4:57
Seneca, as a stoic philosopher, was very suspicious of anger as a way to solve problems. Stoics believe that emotions and out-of-control behavior were not the appropriate way to live. The good life is the life, as Shawn said, of reason and thinking. I think the word remedy is interesting to talk about as the solution to life’s problems.
Steve Fouts: 5:34
I would even throw in delay. Shawn, you read that as thinking. Dan, you just talked about that as thinking. I don’t see thinking in the quote. But, I think I know where you’re both coming from. There is a type of thinking that’s quicker, but I guess this is a certain type of thinking. If either of you would like to elaborate on that.
I think in this quote one of the key words is anger. Anger has a side effect. Since we’re talking about remedy and healing, I think we’re discussing anger as a problem, as a sickness, or as a negative trait. I could be upset, or really angry, and if I act upon it now, then that’s what’s out there. That’s what happens. The relationship, the information, the person that you’re with, is affected by it, right? How many times have you been really upset and had a great emotional surge come through you only to find out something that makes it abait…
Dan Fouts: 6:56
…or you gain perspective? The immediacy of anger is our basis, the least rational, least flexible self. With time we gain insight, understanding, and we clarify the edges of the problem. It’s like when you’re walking around at night feeling the edges of the things that are out there. Imagine it similarly applied to this quote. I think of a person running through a dark house with abandon, without feeling around for the sharp edges and corners that are going to knock them down. This idea of delay as a remedy means there’s something wrong. What are the side effects of anger? Hurt, frustration, and long-term issues. Not to bring up modern politics right now, but people start talking and sharing their views, and we don’t listen.
Dan Fouts: 7:53
I haven’t seen an actual heartfelt discussion of the ills that face our society in any meaningful way in a very long time.
Dan Fouts: 8:02
In the political arena you’re saying, correct?
Absolutely. We get to these rote responses that are fueled with fire and fury. I can’t think of a single time where a person got angry at me and their anger fueled my understanding or resolution of problems. That’s just not how resolutions occur.
Dan Fouts: 8:24
Right. That’s so good. I think kids of any age can understand anger, as long as they define the word remedy. Ask the kids to share a time in their life when anger got the best of them. What did they do? Did they regret their actions? Why did they regret it? What pushed them over the edge? Every kid in your class can share a very interesting story. That would put the kid’s on an equal footing where they all look at each other and recognize that they all experience this. There’s a connection there.
I definitely agree with that. When you were talking, the thing that came to mind was the strategy I use in my classroom when things get heated. How are you going to stop the energy of the emotion and get people back into their thoughtful minds? It’s a brain issue. You’re reacting with your brainstem or you’re thinking with your thinking mind. I used to throw out this challenge, to use the theory of five whys, if you’re familiar with that one. It’s basically a thinking strategy and they give you an answer. For instance, I was talking to a family member who I care a lot about. He has powerful thoughts about politics right now, and I just wanted to get to the real point and not the platitudes that happen when we have political discussions. I went into what I would do with my students. Ask a question, get an answer, and respond with “why is that” five times to dig deeper and deeper down. Ultimately what it got down to was that this family member felt like what he believed and his experience was marginalized and that people don’t care.
Dan Fouts: 10:30
He said, I feel like the iceberg that I stand on with my beliefs is shrinking, and this is the last chance for us to get those ideas out. When the baby boomers, who hold these positions, die, this set of beliefs is going to shrink into the side of the stage. I was wowed. They revealed a sense of desperation, a sense of victimhood. It revealed so much. That this was their last yelp that they were shouting out. At that point I could understand where he was coming from. I wasn’t moved, but I was empathetic.
Dan Fouts: 11:12
You understood his perspective, and that was helpful.
Steve Fouts: 11:18
You didn’t have to agree, but it was important to hear someone share that and realize when we see their anger and frustration and we listen to the words they use with us… I think of Plato, “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a hard battle.” The minute you understand the battle that they’re fighting it creates a different way of relating. I wanted to add in, Dan, I’m going to steal this. You were going to mention the Lincoln…
Dan Fouts: 12:01
Oh, come on.
Steve Fouts: 12:04
You do it and then I’ll go to the counterclaim.
Dan Fouts: 12:05
Okay. Just to add quickly to that Shawn and Steve. That’s where I think equity lives in a conversation, when you can truly meet people where they are, at their level of understanding given their background and their belief system. You can meet people where they are, but you have to understand where they are first.
The Lincoln thing is a famous story of Lincoln when he would get really angry at his generals, or the people working in his cabinet. He would pen these vociferous letters, and instead of sending them to the person with whom he was angry, he would put them in his desk, let them sit for a week or two, and never send them. They found a lot of letters that he never sent. Delay was his remedy for anger, because he decided that it was worse to act on anger then it was to just wait things out and let the universe unfold.
Steve Fouts: 13:18 – Counterclaim
It seems like it’s in the same spirit as Seneca. Okay, we’ve finished the claim. It’s pretty straight forward. We had a couple of words in there, well really just remedy, that we had to define. Let’s move to the counterclaim. Why is this not the best advice in all circumstances? What’s another way to look at the world that calls this into question? Shawn, if you have an idea you can kick it off for us.
I’ll jump in there. If I’m forming a counterclaim to this quote, then it has to do with the idea of passivity versus action. Sometimes, we need to take action, you just need to do something. I’m pretty critical of using military force as the most powerful country in the world. But, I remember when September 11th happened, the feeling like something must be done right away. We were pretty divided about George W. Bush as a country, but his approval rating soared through the roof because he had a plan, he took action. Sometimes we just need to act.
I can think of another example as a parent. I was at a playground and there was an adult who pushed my kid out of the way, knocking him into the wood chips as their kid was trying to play on the playground. That’s not a time for me to sit back and think. I got in there, picked my kid up from the wood chips, put him on my hip, and made it clear to the adult that if you do that again we’re gonna have an issue. You can’t knock people’s children around. It was full of anger and he had to feel it, because I guarantee after that he was not going to bump into my child. I think there are places and responsibilities where we need to do that.
Another example of where I see that being a valid tactic as a teacher is when you’re in the class and a person shares an opinion, but that opinion is threatening, harmful, or aggressive to another person in your class. I’m not here to play. I want open conversation, but nobody has open conversation if people aren’t safe. I would jump in there and say, hey, it’s fantastic that you have that opinion, but… That kid needs to see me act, right? A specific example was a person who was sharing their particular religious beliefs about what social behaviors are and are not good. They threw a huge condemnation towards gay and transgender people. In my class, I had a person who was transgender, and that kid didn’t know. This was known to me, and that kid needs to see me lay out a firm line. You don’t know who is affected by your words. I just want to say that I know many people who are in that situation and It’s not simple for anyone. Defend the territory so that kid who’s feeling threatened knows someone has their back. In that situation you can’t wait to say something until the end of the class period. The damage is done. You can’t unburn somebody who’s been burned.
Steve Fouts: 16:57
Yeah, what a wonderful example. I’m hearing you say that anger in the moment should not be delayed. Sometimes it’s necessary. That’s the purest counterclaim to this. Do you have anything, Dan? I have another thought, but I want to let you weigh in. Shawn, I feel like that was so good, now we have to see if there’s anything to add to it.
Dan Fouts: 17:34
It was really good, Shawn. On the counterclaim side of this conversation I would unpack the word anger. I would ask the kids, is it possible to be angry and not yell? Is it possible to express extreme displeasure and not throw things? Going with your example, Shawn, as a teacher I find some of the most effective moments in class are when a teacher shows anger through silence and staring at a student.
Dan Fouts: 18:12
Presence. You don’t even have to say anything. You just have to walk towards the student, look at them, and you’ve communicated everything. That cannot wait. If something inappropriate is said, you have to act.
I’m going to try to power up my counterclaim. Anger delayed is the greatest psychological problem that most Americans face. We have post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and trauma. If you delay anger as a remedy, but it is not resolved, now you have disease.
Dan Fouts: 19:08
It eats you away. I’m a big fan of saying pause. I used to tell my kids to pause, and find your words, but sometimes there’s this part that just needs to come out.
Steve Fouts: 19:22
So, get this Shawn, you’re right thinking the exact same thing I was. We could change this to say, the greatest remedy for anger is expression. You could argue it is healthy.
I can make a compelling argument for that. It depends on what you think of as the expression of anger. If the expression of anger is violence, then I’m going to say delay that stuff. That’s irrevocable.
Dan Fouts: 19:58
Good, that’s the nuance.
If the expression of anger is emotion or acknowledgement, I don’t think there’s any benefit in delaying anger. If you’re acknowledging your anger by saying to someone, I disagree with you and it’s causing me to get a little angry, then there’s no need to delay.
Dan Fouts: 20:20
As a parent, I’ve never spanked my kids, some people do, it’s never been my thing. But, my kids would much rather that I got angry then display disappointment. It hits like a truck. What’s wrong with the immediate expression of anger if it’s couched in, this is how I feel, this is what you have caused, a rational understanding of it. But, if my expression of anger is to grab a bat and whack you in the head, then clearly delay is healthy.
Dan Fouts: 21:08
Steve, you know you haven’t really gotten into your background, the environment that you taught in. How did you negotiate anger?
Steve Fouts: 21:18
Yeah, we’re thinking the same thing, Dan. When Shawn was talking, I immediately thought of my environment. Shawn, I taught at a westside of Chicago high school, underserved, high poverty, high crime areas, very diverse students with a lot of anger on a consistent daily basis. It was difficult for them to accept the dynamic of a teacher with power over them, because of all of their negative experiences with people who had power over them in the past. One of my biggest realizations was when it came to expressing displeasure. I started off by controlling the anger, by trying to be positive, not trying to drop an F-bomb. I realized that there were times when not expressing anger would make them think that I didn’t care about them.
Yeah, it comes off as disinterest.
Dan Fouts: 23:00
Taking the time to react to someone is like saying that they matter.
Dan Fouts: 23:05
When I was in my early teaching career, my wife was a work at home mom, and I taught alternative night school for 12 years. There were a variety of kids, but a good portion of them were incarcerated during the day and came to school for the evenings with ankle bracelets. What I learned was that they have no agency. Nobody asks their opinion, nobody values their perspective, or how things should go. If I could provide choice for how things went, choice for how they express things, and gave them power over something, they respected me. One of the smallest things was when a kid needed to go to the bathroom and he asked me for permission. He got mad about having to ask. I said, people ask people to go to the bathroom. He said, I don’t have to ask anybody to go to the bathroom anywhere else in the real world except here, and I’m in jail during the day. That hit home. From that moment forward I never required a kid to ask to go to the bathroom, not ever, not once for 20 years of my career, and it never became an issue and no one ever took advantage.
Dan Fouts: 24:30
The one time someone took advantage of me was on September 11th. A kid pointed to the door, which means he’s going to the bathroom, or getting a drink and will be back in 3 to 4 minutes. That way, I know where the student is if anything happens. Giving them the power to make the choice to go to the bathroom and not questioning that changed the whole dynamic of my rooms.
Dan Fouts: 24:54
That’s an easy one to do right, Shawn? Anyone can do that.
Sometimes we send a message to our kids when we get mad for them or we react to them. It’s communicating that we’re invested in them enough that our state, at any given point, can be altered. People need to understand that the kids I worked with found no value in my rational processing of what they went through.
Steve Fouts: 25:32
Interesting. I thought of another quote, I don’t know who said this, but it is something to the effect that “the opposite of love is not anger, it’s indifference.” Along the lines of what you were saying, Shawn, it shows interest.
I totally agree. Emotional understanding was something that we had to discuss to unpack the feelings that they have. Tying back to our quote about anger and expression, how do feelings come out, even defining what anger is. I used to tell kids that like and dislike are simple things. I can easily, on a spur of the moment, taste one of something and decide that I like or dislike it. It’s very quick. But, what makes like become love is that feeling of positivity plus energy that I invested in it. Hate is the same. Hate is dislike plus energy. The switch between like and dislike is slim. If the formula holds, then the line between love and hate is razor thin and could be easily switched.
Dan Fouts: 26:41
Right. That’s a positive way to look at that. I love that.
Steve Fouts: 26:47
Every kid has a different calculus for love and hate. This is where we have to meet kids where they are and figure out, through our developing personal relationships with each of them, the best way to deal with them on this continuum.
The solution to any problem that I face, or even in a classroom, is marketing. Who’s your target market and what needs do they need met? If that need is acknowledgement of a child in my classroom, and being angry buys me their attention, then I’ll be angry. But, I’ve been in other places where anger is not acceptable. Pouring energy into certain crowds is not the proper solution. I feel, with this quote, we should consider situations that call for additional energy or for removed energy.
Dan Fouts: 28:01
Steve Fouts: 28:05
That’s good. Because, in some cases being disinterested, not letting something get to you, is exactly what they want to see. If they don’t see that, then they’re going to be pushing your buttons constantly.
Dan Fouts: 28:19
But, disinterest comes off as I don’t care. Tell me about a relationship that benefits when you tell the other person I don’t care? That’s what a good friend of mine used to call the hand grenade that ends all marriages, the moment someone indicates that they do not care. When I’ve heard another teacher say to a kid, I don’t care, and they mean it, that’s a problem. That kid could have done a hundred million horrible things, but for you to say you don’t care, of course they’re going to increase their behavior. You just told them you don’t care, and now they’re going to make you care.
Dan Fouts: 29:07 – Essential Question
Yeah, that’s true, that’s great. Well, an excellent conversation with good sharing of personal experiences. Shawn, you see how this works where we can share as adults some of the stories with the students of how this impacts us just as much as it impacts them. Kids want to hear how adults manage anger, as well as sharing amongst themselves how they negotiate it. They like to hear how adults deal with the very same challenges.
We’ll end the conversation here with an essential question. There’s a lot of them that could pop up in a conversation like this, some of these may come from the kids. Here’s one to consider, “How should we act when we are angry?” To think about that, now and into the future, is really important for all of us.
Shawn it was a pleasure. Thank you so much. Do you have anything else you want to share about what you do and where you’re headed?
I love Seneca, but now I’m thinking about equity and cultures. The right thing is situational, and what kids need is oftentimes cultural. I work in urban underserved areas, and when you go in here, you can’t believe their culture is wrong or broken and your’s is superior. Their culture is a beautiful wonderful thing, if you’re willing to sit and accept it, then that can be kind of a good thing. All things are situational. There are situations to be understood. Maybe the remedy to delay depends on the situation.
Steve Fouts: 31:14
Dan Fouts: 31:15
We have to meet people where they are, which makes our job so incredibly difficult, but so fun and challenging at the same time.
Dan Fouts: 31:17
Take care Shawn. We wish you the best of luck. Thanks for coming on the show.
Thank you, gentlemen.
Thanks everybody. We hope you walk away feeling energized by some great ideas and are confident conversations like this are possible with a little bit of planning and a 3-step method. Make sure you go to teachdifferent.com to learn more and check out our library of conversation starters. Each week we post a new quote, with a sample claim, counterclaim, and essential question to get you started. Good luck, and don’t forget to teach different with conversations and make a difference every day.