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In his essay “Of Anger,” Sir Francis Bacon lists various causes or motives of anger, including the following:
- a “natural inclination and habit to be angry”: in other words, a tendency toward anger may be part of a particular person’s character and is probably also innate in human nature.
- an inability or disinclination to be patient, so that we behave like bees (in the words of Seneca):
. . . animasque in vulnere ponunt
[that put their lives in the sting].
- weakness. Bacon suggests that weak persons are more likely to be angry than strong persons.
Bacon cites three causes of anger especially:
- being overly sensitive – in other words, having feelings that are too easily hurt.
- assuming that any injuring one receives from others was full of contempt and disrespect – in other words, immediately assuming that one has been disrespected.
- assuming that an injury will damage one’s reputation.
Bacon suggests a number of ways of overcoming anger, including the following:
- Don’t assume, as did the Stoic philosophers of ancient Rome, that anger can be utterly extinguished by an act of mere will. Anger cannot be dealt with so easily; it must be allowed to diminish with the passage of time.
- Consider the negative effects that anger causes in the life of the person who is angry. Anger injuries the angry person most of all and is thus self-defeating.
- Try to be patient.
- Try not to be easily hurt or easily worried about one’s reputation. An honorable person need not worry about his/her reputation. Therefore, truly honorable people are less likely to be angry.
- Let time pass, even telling oneself that one can take revenge later for an injury suffered today. Meanwhile, the passage of time will diminish one’s anger.
All in all, Bacon looks at anger from a Christian rather than from a Stoic perspective. At the same time, his advice is also highly pragmatic. In other words, he shows an awareness of how anger actually develops and can be dealt with in ordinary life. His comment about waiting to take revenge is especially intriguing. He knew that taking revenge was frowned about in Christianity, but instead of suggesting that a person refrain from revenge altogether, he suggests that any contemplated revenge should be postponed. He seems to have assumed that postponing revenge would make it ultimately less likely to occur. This is a bit of shrewd psychology on Bacon’s part.
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