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Physical expression of anger

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I am currently working as a freelancer for a software company. A little over a week ago, three of the people I work with and myself sat around a table and had lunch. After lunch, we talked and one person, Mr. N., became very upset about decisions that I and someone else have made. He talked himself into such anger that he suddenly banged his fist on the table rather forcefully and became very loud. His physical outburst was not a reaction to anything anyone had said earlier. In fact, nobody had a chance to say anything before he hit the table. When he hit the table I felt frightened. I took the initiative and addressed his points and in the end everyone was satisfied, except for me. I still feel that I should have said something about Mr. N's behavior - regardless of the content of the discussion. I feel like he crossed a line but I don't know what I should have said. Do you think it can be appropriate to express one's anger publicly in such a way? Why or why not? What would be an appropriate reaction in such a situation?

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Do you think it can be appropriate to express one's anger publicly in such a way?

Yes, it can be if the actual issue involves high values and if doing so doesn't disrupt cooperation. (The purpose of etiquette is to facilitate trade among producers.)

Although your account is clearly written, I am unsure whether his anger was a response to the issue you talked about or whether there was some deeper, but not discussed issue, or whether he was transferring anger about a very personal and private problem onto your work situation.

What would be an appropriate reaction in such a situation?

Do you mean your reaction to his anger or his reaction? Your reaction of fear would be appropriate if you thought he was physically threatening you and if you don't have the ability to physically defend yourself against a physical attacker.

Or do you mean you felt fear that the business relationship would dissolve and you would lose your contract?

I would have other questions as well:

- Is this person emotionally expressive in other ways, at the same level?

- Is he usually angry about something?

- Were there cultural differences operating? (I once worked in an international marketing department in which the contrast in levels of emotional expression was generally very strong, based on "nationality." This isn't determinism, but, I suspect, a reflection of what is customarily acceptable in one culture (or even family) versus another.

I (as a freelance writer and editor) have seen the same sort of situation that you describe: explosions of anger in staff meetings, followed by notebooks slammed onto the top of the conference table, chairs shoved back (and falling over), and doors banged shut as the angry employee leaves the room. The reaction of most others in the room was, "Well, Ed exploded again. Now where were we in the agenda?"

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When he hit the table I felt frightened.

Physical expressions of emotion can be perceived as frightening, especially when the physical action is out of proportion to the circumstances. In response to such a display I think it is quite natural for one to think or feel, implicitly or explicitly, "what next?" Also, it is my observation that, in general, women are more easily frightened by inappropriate anger, especially when expressed by a man, but also even when that physical anger is performed by another woman. I think that makes sense, considering the general differences in female and male psychologies.

I still feel that I should have said something about Mr. N's behavior - regardless of the content of the discussion. I feel like he crossed a line but I don't know what I should have said.

If you have an ongoing relationship with Mr. N., then even if the physical expression of anger was in proportion to the circumstances I would still make it clear to him just how uncomfortable you are with such actions. Perhaps Mr. N. literally has no idea just how affected you are, and perhaps if he understands your response he will make an effort to curtail his own anger in the future. But, if that physical expression of anger was way out of proprotion to the circumstances, I think it would be appropriate to let Mr. N. know how you feel, and if necessary tell him that you will not deal with him in the future if he continues to act in that way. If he has a problem with anger, there is no reason that you should be a victim to his problem.

Now, of course, all of this may be mitigated by the personalities and relationships of the people involved; what may not be acceptable behavior towards a woman acquaintance might be just the way things are done with a male friend.

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Do you mean your reaction to his anger or his reaction? Your reaction of fear would be appropriate if you thought he was physically threatening you and if you don't have the ability to physically defend yourself against a physical attacker.

Or do you mean you felt fear that the business relationship would dissolve and you would lose your contract?

I don't know why I was afraid but I was. I don't think it was because I perceived Mr. N. as a physical threat. He is shorter than me, not particularly athletic and I don't perceive him as the kind of person who tends to be physically agressive. I value the business relationship and my contract and don't want to lose either. Maybe that's the reason but I am not yet sure.
I would have other questions as well:

- Is this person emotionally expressive in other ways, at the same level?

- Is he usually angry about something?

- Were there cultural differences operating? (I once worked in an international marketing department in which the contrast in levels of emotional expression was generally very strong, based on "nationality." This isn't determinism, but, I suspect, a reflection of what is customarily acceptable in one culture (or even family) versus another.

Mr. N. is most expressive when he is angry. This was not the first time he physically expressed his anger. Usually he raises his voice and bangs his fist on the table, like a wild monkey. There are no cultural differences that I can discern. He is a pessimist which can get quite annoying at times but otherwise a smart and educated man.
Although your account is clearly written, I am unsure whether his anger was a response to the issue you talked about or whether there was some deeper, but not discussed issue, or whether he was transferring anger about a very personal and private problem onto your work situation.
I find it difficult to judge Mr. N. objectively. On the one hand he had a legitimate reason to be angry, on the other hand I think his reaction was out of proportion and that there is in fact something else he is angry about. I suspect that he is afraid of any change that would require him to acquire new knowledge and skills and gets angry when anyone makes a decision without consulting him and thus without giving him a chance to stop the change before it happens. I hope I am wrong.
I (as a freelance writer and editor) have seen the same sort of situation that you describe: explosions of anger in staff meetings, followed by notebooks slammed onto the top of the conference table, chairs shoved back (and falling over), and doors banged shut as the angry employee leaves the room. The reaction of most others in the room was, "Well, Ed exploded again. Now where were we in the agenda?"
If I may ask, did such situations ever frighten you and do you know why?

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Physical expressions of emotion can be perceived as frightening, especially when the physical action is out of proportion to the circumstances. In response to such a display I think it is quite natural for one to think or feel, implicitly or explicitly, "what next?" Also, it is my observation that, in general, women are more easily frightened by inappropriate anger, especially when expressed by a man, but also even when that physical anger is performed by another woman. I think that makes sense, considering the general differences in female and male psychologies.
You mentioned the general differences in female and male psychologies. Are you talking about inborn or acquired psychologies? How would these differences manifest themselves other than in one's reaction to anger? I am asking because, according to this study, as a fetus I was exposed to more estrogene than testosterone and thus have a slightly higher level of estrogene than of testosterone.
If you have an ongoing relationship with Mr. N., then even if the physical expression of anger was in proportion to the circumstances I would still make it clear to him just how uncomfortable you are with such actions. Perhaps Mr. N. literally has no idea just how affected you are, and perhaps if he understands your response he will make an effort to curtail his own anger in the future. But, if that physical expression of anger was way out of proprotion to the circumstances, I think it would be appropriate to let Mr. N. know how you feel, and if necessary tell him that you will not deal with him in the future if he continues to act in that way. If he has a problem with anger, there is no reason that you should be a victim to his problem.
I did not consider that he might be unaware of the effects of his actions. Thanks.

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If I may ask, did such situations ever frighten you and do you know why?

For sure, they sometimes startled me. They did not frighten me, probably because I was then physically fit and had some skill in martial arts (at least enough to know how to block or avoid a physical attack). One of the skills I learned in martial arts is that, all other factors being equal, the one who stays calm wins. Based on what I have observed, I would say enraged people usually act in ways that leave them open to easy retaliation by others, those who are calm and have some experience in dealing with physical conflicts.

Besides, usually the people in business meetings who were door-slammingly angry were not themselves much of a threat. (I did have some concern that one of them might come back the next day with a gun.)

Now, situations on the street are something different. I have come close to a couple of situations in recent years (I am about 62) that left me shaking later, though fortunately not at the time. Of course, now I don't have the physical abilities I had when I was in business (ending 17 years ago). The most I could hope for now is to fend off one attacker, while moving away. That makes me more susceptible to fear.

Fear is always an appropriate response if you think that someone is actually threatening your values. But a self-confident, properly trained person can usually face the threat and not be washed away by the emotion at that time. What is actually a threat to one person (who has no training or experience) need not be a threat to another person (who is accustomed to such things).

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Kind of embarassing to admit... But, I am that guy (not Mr. N literally). I am also a cook though, raging is almost expected of you. I've never even been reprimanded for it, and I've had some doosies.

There is sort of a bromide at my work (there are 3 ragers in my kitchen :) ): never fear the man snarling (throwing pots, conjuring satan etc) next to you, fear the quiet one who never says anything. Whenever I read news accounts of people that have perpetrated sudden, violent acts (work shootings and the like) it always comes as some big suprise to everyone else. "Oh, he was so sweet and quiet." "He's the last person I would think of doing this, he used to help his old neighbor take out the garbage." Quiet is usually the key word here.

It's almost never: "He was a psychopath, I feared for my life everyday!"

Granted it is not a beautiful psychological trait to witness. I know I have scared the living hell out of plenty of new employees. The old ones break 'em in though, "That's just Bob, he'll be fine in a moment." They don't even pay attention anymore.

I haven't really had experience with the quiet psychopath. But, the physical expression of anger does not, in itself, tell you much about whether you should feel fear or not. It can be light-years of a difference to this person between banging his fists on a table or on your head. On the other hand it can be no stretch at all for the guy who spends his lunch hour quietly feeding the birds and coming in the next morning and slaughtering everyone at your job.

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Granted it is not a beautiful psychological trait to witness. I know I have scared the living hell out of plenty of new employees. The old ones break 'em in though, "That's just Bob, he'll be fine in a moment." They don't even pay attention anymore.
Why do you do it, then?

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Your questions about your own chemistry intrigued me. I have a problem that manifests itself by flooding my frontal cortex with chemicals at the least stimulus. Where someone might feel a little thrill of fear when hearing a loud noise, my brain is flooded with the chemicals that usually readies one to act, causing a full-blown panic reaction all out of proportion to the provocation. I've had this problem since I was a baby; my mother told me that they had to be careful about noises, etc., because I would scream bloody-murder at anything out of the ordinary. It has taken me years to learn how to bring it under some semblance of conscious control.

The fact that you mention studies done that pinpointed a particular problem may be a clue to a more pronounced physical reaction than might otherwise be expected. My own problems are harmonally based. I'm not saying this is the cause, but because of my own problems and the lack of knowledge in this area that would allow a doctor to diagnose something in patricular, I have long suspected that overactive emotional responses may be caused by more than just psychological problems. I'm sure that one aspect influences the other, of course, since we are an integrated whole. It has taken me a long time to work out what is an actual psychological reaction based on my thinking about something, and what is my body overreacting to something in my environment, or overreacting to my psychological state.

I am not suggesting that you have a similar problem. I am suggesting that the extent to which our harmones regulate automatic physical responses has a large area that is within normal limits ("within normal limits" is the most used phrase in medicine). The man who tends to show outward displays of anger, such as the man you are talking about, and the man whose reaction may be out of proportion may both be exaggerated because of that person's particular brain chemistry.

Of course, he may also be a nutter and you are perfectly right to have such a reaction. Sometimes your subconscious "sees" something that you haven't identified consciously and sets off a little alarm that tells you to pay attention. You are right to define what is happening, one way or the other.

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I am also a cook though, raging is almost expected of you.

lol, I do work as a caterer; and it's always amusing the first time a new guy tries to sneak a bite to eat under the cooks' noses. Usually one of them holds up a butcher knife and starts chopping something, saying something like, "NEXT TIME, IT WILL BE ONE OF YOUR FINGERS!!"

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You mentioned the general differences in female and male psychologies. Are you talking about inborn or acquired psychologies?

I was referring to the typical differences readily observed, irrespective of the cause.

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Why do you do it, then?

Wow, don't know. Maybe someone should have reprimanded me for it before. (Of course I had a boss once that told me he expected me to be at work on time (I usually run about 15 minutes behind) when I told him I couldn't help him he thanked me and I went back to work. So who knows how the other conversation would turn out.) And largely my bosses have been even more rage kings than I - ever seen a Sicilian in meltdown?

I think mine is occupational. I am "zen" outside the "office". I even took a nap between these 2 paragraphs!

A blow up only happens about six times a year for me, as opposed to everyday in my 20's. I think it is a form of psychological release, and I know one of the triggers is someone else's incompetence. That will send me threw the roof. Either the boss can fire them, or that person can suffer my wrath. I know there are more "calm" ways to deal with people, but if you're going to sluff off and don't care, you don't deserve, and I don't have the time to give you my rational consideration. I have this rule: work, do it right, do it good, or get the hell out of my way, there are tons of people to take your place.

Hey, I guess I do know why, thanks for the question!

As for Mr N, I think you would have to get to know him a little more. Does he do this in other contexts? Is there other behavior that would give you cause to feel fear? Is he just maybe a real, real passionate guy?

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As a person, I have very little respect for people who can't control their emotions (or more exactly how their emotions are displayed).

As an employee, I would consider such outburst completely incompatible with a proper work atmosphere, and I would use my company's harassment rules against such behavior. Obviously, there's a question of frequency and intensity of outburst. In the past 7.5 years, I have seen people getting pretty worked up, but never like you describe.

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As a person, I have very little respect for people who can't control their emotions (or more exactly how their emotions are displayed).

As an employee, I would consider such outburst completely incompatible with a proper work atmosphere, and I would use my company's harassment rules against such behavior. Obviously, there's a question of frequency and intensity of outburst. In the past 7.5 years, I have seen people getting pretty worked up, but never like you describe.

Here, on the website of a law firm - the business of which appears to be advising employers regarding workplace laws - are pages of descriptions (there is no such thing as a definition, never mind an objective definition) of "harassment rules." Given the nature and origin of such rules, and that this extensive collection of non-objectivity is what is generally meant by "harassment rules," I can't help thinking that, as an Objectivist, you would not really choose such recourse for a problem in the workplace.

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Here, on the website of a law firm - the business of which appears to be advising employers regarding workplace laws - are pages of descriptions (there is no such thing as a definition, never mind an objective definition) of "harassment rules." Given the nature and origin of such rules, and that this extensive collection of non-objectivity is what is generally meant by "harassment rules," I can't help thinking that, as an Objectivist, you would not really choose such recourse for a problem in the workplace.

I am talking about the internal rules set in place by the employer, not the state laws.

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I am talking about the internal rules set in place by the employer, not the state laws.

Well that's a good thing. What is the nature of the rule(s) that can be applied to that situation?

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As a person, I have very little respect for people who can't control their emotions (or more exactly how their emotions are displayed).

So you could have no respect for someone like Ellis Wyatt from Atlas Shrugged who was said to have a violent temper. You obviously couldn't work for such a person as that would be incompatible with a proper work atmosphere.

Can't or won't control their emotions? Displayed - to whom?

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Well that's a good thing. What is the nature of the rule(s) that can be applied to that situation?

Actually, it's probably not a good thing, even if the rules are nominally private. This is because the usual cause behind even so-called 'private' 'harassment' or 'anti-harassment' rules or policies -- is, primarily, the threat of non-objective laws.

And my point is that I think it's impossible to know what sort of rules or policies any given company would freely choose to have, if it were not subject to entire suites of non-objective laws.

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There's the important question of whether somebody angrily pounding a table can be legitimately thought of as a threat to one's self. Pounding a table is very bad manners but it's not harassing somebody per se. Somebody could make a far more harassing and threatening statement (e.g. "I'm going to kill you after work") in a perfectly quiet tone.

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There's the important question of whether somebody angrily pounding a table can be legitimately thought of as a threat to one's self. Pounding a table is very bad manners but it's not harassing somebody per se. Somebody could make a far more harassing and threatening statement (e.g. "I'm going to kill you after work") in a perfectly quiet tone.

At that point you're talking about a statement of criminal intent.

And if certain types of criminal intent constituted the objective legal meaning of 'harassment,' then harassment might not be, as a legal term, an unnecessary and rationally unusable concept. But legally, as far as I can see 1) there is (and never was) an objective legal meaning of harassment OR 2) any objective legal definition it might ever have had, has been obscured/lost by expanding the "definition(s)" into non-objectivity.

And the attempted application of non-objective legal concepts causes injustice, and the rationalization of injustice. So morally speaking, the legal meaning of harassment must either be objectified, or it should become inadmissible as a basis for legal proceedings.

And in regard to a company's private policies - as long those rules or policies violate no one's rights, then employees must either abide by these or try to persuade the company to change them, if they choose to work for that employer.

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And if certain types of criminal intent constituted the objective legal meaning of 'harassment,' then harassment might not be, as a legal term, an unnecessary and rationally unusable concept.

The term has been partially hijacked by the PC'ers, that is true. I don't agree that it's "an unnecessary and rationally unusable concept". It's a perfectly valid concept and it ought to have legal standing in some situations. Suppose somebody did not obviously initiate force against you - they didn't physically touch you or your property, they didn't obstruct you - but they followed you around all day long (maybe saying things, maybe not) against your wishes. I think that would be a reasonable scenario to dub "harassment", both in the legitimate common sensical meaning, and in a legally meaningful sense: that is not the way that reasonable people act, and nobody should have to put up with such a thing. That is partly why restraining orders exist, and as far as I know, existed long before the current PC corruption of the term.

There are illegitimate words such as anti-concepts, but there are also words that convey both legitimate concepts and illegitimate ones, in a package-deal. One obvious one for Objectivists is "selfishness", which is necessary for a rational ethics, but which is commonly package-dealed to mean "no concern for the rights of others". That doesn't mean that the word/concept is to be thrown out.

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That doesn't mean that the word/concept is to be thrown out.

And I did not say that 'throwing it out' was the solution. I suggested, for legal purposes, either objectifying it or ceasing to use it [in its current non-objective form] as a basis for legal proceedings; because legally, as 'harassment' is actually used (without objective legal definition) it is rationally unusable.

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Kind of embarassing to admit... But, I am that guy (not Mr. N literally). I am also a cook though, raging is almost expected of you. I've never even been reprimanded for it, and I've had some doosies.

I didn't know it when I wrote this, but, after 21 years, I am no longer a cook, nor work in a kitchen. It is certainly job related for me. I'm so calm, I think I could bore myself!

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I didn't know it when I wrote this, but, after 21 years, I am no longer a cook, nor work in a kitchen. It is certainly job related for me. I'm so calm, I think I could bore myself!

That's interesting. What sort of work are you doing now that has such a calming influence on you?

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