You Are Stronger Than Your Pain

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition”

Adversity is a reasonably simple concept. It’s an event, situation or thing that challenges you and makes life more difficult. It can vary in length, intensity or unpleasantness.

For some, it’s losing a parent. For others, it’s struggling with maths. Whatever it is, let’s start off by refusing to compare our situations to other people’s. It’s a pointless exercise. 

I want to show you that you are stronger than your pain. You are greater than it. For two main reasons.

  1. You are more than your pain.
  2. You can become better because of your pain.

My goal is to show you that this needn’t be a silly platitude. It is not about reading a quote about overcoming adversity, feel invigorated for a fleeting moment, then continue to feel defeated by the misfortune life has offered.

I want you to believe this because it’s true.

I

First, let’s admit that painful challenges life throws at us can really really suck. Ignoring that fact would be stupid. Yes, some things “aren’t that bad” when you put them into the perspective of other people or place them into the grandness of the universe. However, this misses an important point.

Some events are challenges and important ones because you’re experiencing them. Adversity might be the villain in your personal story. Does the existence of millions of other stories invalidate your own? Of course not. Continually dismissing problems as insignificant just prevents us from approaching them head on.

Adversity can not only feel like they’ve consumed you completely but actually consume you. They can be the only things on your mind for hours, days and weeks on end. Anyone who has faced a significant challenge knows exactly what this is like. Everything you do in your life comes back to this pain.

The pain just seems to last forever.

However, the first step to understanding why you are stronger than your pain is to understand that you are more than your pain.

What does this mean?

Pain is not the only part of our lives. Our pain plays a marvelous trick on all of us – it convinces us that the good in our day does not matter. Or worse yet, that good doesn’t exist at all.

This forces us to create unhelpful thinking habits which skew our ideas of reality negatively and create a vicious cycle of catastrophic thinking. An example of this is disqualifying the positive and over-generalising.

Let’s say you struggle with maths. You fail a maths test, try again and fail again. When you have the habit of dishonestly assessing your own efforts, you’ll miss that trying again at something you currently suck at is a positive step. You can be proud of the things you control and your effort is one of those things.

There are also aspects of your life that aren’t related to your problem.

If you wake up and have a good breakfast or see a friend smile, that’s an example of experiencing something other than your pain. The catastrophizer in you will continue to say nothing is good in life and everything sucks without ever pausing to catch the good in the day. Of course, the good things can be so small they’re easy to miss but with practice, it becomes easier.

For me, it’s making my bed once a day. It’s a very small thing but it shows me two things.

First, I’ve experienced something other than just being in pain.

Second, it is me who has demonstrated control over something in my day. Not the pain.

Putting our days into context helps show us that there’s more to our lives than pain. This cannot be misinterpreted as purposefully ignoring pain or believing in good things just because for the sake of it.

Pain, adversity, challenges, difficulty. Many events can be tough or extremely limiting but we must remember:

We are more than our pain.

II

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition”

In the dark depths of adversity, it can almost be insulting to suggest life can improve not only despite the challenge but because of it.

To understand this, it is helpful to return to the idea of adversity. It is something that prevents us from continuing in the path we are currently walking down. Adversity makes life more difficult.

In order to move past this obstacle, we either wait for it to pass or resolve to do something about it.

Choosing to wait is the easiest option but completely removes the autonomy that we have over our own lives. It also guarantees nothing.

Resolving to do something about it is difficult but at least opens the option for having some control over the problem.

Let’s assume we’re going to take some action. We’ll return to the struggling mathematician. You want to get better but understand that you don’t currently have the skills to tackle certain maths problems. Your teacher isn’t helpful because she doesn’t care.

Struggling mathematician then decides to go online and use a large variety of resources to get better at certain problems. In the process, she begins to focus harder and with fewer distractions. She takes the test again and passes.

Did she succeed in spite of her disinterested teacher or because of her?

Both. Her rubbish teacher did nothing to help but her absence also showed the student that she is capable of getting better at maths even if it required a harder route. This route also helped her improve her focus and confidence. As a result, she has become better because of her adversity.

As Ryan Halliday says in The Obstacle is the Way:

Blessings and burdens aren’t mutually exclusive terms.

This is a very simplified example but it is meant to show that with some honest self-assessment, we can find skills that we’ve developed because of adversity. Even if that is slowly building up your mental resilience when something goes wrong.

Adversity offers us a challenge. To get past the challenge, we have to develop certain skills, mindsets or habits to get through. Without the challenge in the first place, we will be perfectly fine walking an easy but less satisfying path.

We can become better because of our pain.

III

How you can help others.

Earlier, I lied. There are three sections not two.

Adversity is also not simple. The statement “you are stronger than your pain” is, to me, true because there are many reasons to believe we are not solely defined by adversity and we can often get through it if we plan our approach, let fear pass and occasionally utilise some Sisu.

There is one thing I haven’t mentioned.

Other people.

“You” don’t have to be alone when it comes to facing pain. A lot of the time, the help of other people is much more beneficial than anything you can expect from trying to force your way through life with brute willpower.

With this in mind, you can also be the helping hand for others too.

One of the mantras I try to inject into my day is to add value to other people’s lives. Sometimes that comes from writing these blog posts. Most of the time, it comes from being absolutely hilarious.

Screenshot (30)

Whatever help you give, it will be valued. Sometimes not explicitly but that’s OK. The aim isn’t to help others in order to be congratulated.

And that brings me to the end.

I want you to sincerely believe that you are stronger than your pain because you are.

You are more than your pain.

You are not solely defined by pain.

You can become better because of your pain.

You are stronger than your pain.

I promise.


 

Are there any challenges you’re currently facing?

As always, thanks for reading.

I have social media! Follow them if you want. It’s pretty great occassionally.

Twitter Facebook

twitter and facebook mascots :D

The Sunday Monday Post | I Can Swim

I thought I’d start the Sunday Monday Post so I can to talk more loosely about the things I’ve enjoyed within the self-improvement sphere and how I think I’ve improved in the past week (or since the time of the last edition).

It won’t be a very structured article and will probably involve more jokes than  are necessary. However, you probably won’t notice them because I’m not very funny. If I say I’ve told a joke then you need to laugh to make sure I don’t cry.

Thanks.

Nonetheless, let me think about what’s happened to me this week

I have great amazing unbelievable news.

I can swim.

As in, when I go into the water and try to move forward I don’t begin to drown straight away or wonder why I decided to ever even think about getting wet with chlorine in the first place. I actually move forward (or backwards because I can do the backstroke too. Just saying.) It’s fascinating.

When I first moved through the water without touching the floor, I nearly punched the pool wall because I was so excited that it happened. I’ve only had four lessons so I didn’t expect it to happen as quickly as it did.  Then I tried again but drank far too much pool water. Then I tried again, made a few changes, then I stopped drinking an excessive amount of pool water. But then I might make a different mistake like not actually kicking my legs. Then I’d go again.

But at least I’d be making small changes every time I came to stop. It made the whole swimming thing much easier to manage than trying to complete everything at once. Nonetheless, at the end of the session, I was swimming a decent amount. I can’t do it very far or for very long but it’s much better than the way I was like 15 years ago.

Any time I’d try to get into the water, I’d just flail around, it’d take me forever to progress onto the floats but as soon as I had to support the majority of my body weight, it’d be like my body mass tripled and rather than moving forward through the water, I’d just move down.

Let’s forget the general idea that humans actually float in the water or the fact that you can stand up in training pools. I couldn’t do either. I’d just be dead for the most part.

But now, I don’t die. I just swim for a bit and die a bit later.

To commemorate this moment, I drew a bunch of pictures: Screenshot (20)Screenshot (21)Screenshot (23)Screenshot (24)

Before my swimming lessons, I found a few different swimming tutorials which gave a few pointers on how to get over the fear of water.

Screenshot (25)

I started to break down the different parts of swimming practiced them individually (though, I always tried to breathe). It made swimming much more manageable.

Screenshot (26)

I’ve conquered years and years of fears by learning how to swim. I’m not very good but that’s OK. I’ve taken the first step. Now I can continue working on swimming and improving slowly in the process.

And dammit I’m proud.


As always, thanks for reading :)

I have facebook and twitter. Check them out @improvingslowly

Yes this is on a Tuesday. No, I don’t know why. 

twitter and facebook mascots :D

 

Disconnect

It’s a friendly silence.

The silence that lets you think. That lets you create. That lets you enjoy peace.

In the journey of trying to design an enjoyable life, I started thinking back to some of the times that I’ve felt most satisfied or happiest.

I noticed, as did Derek Sivers, that they are the times when I’m not consumed by needless distractions. During these times of peace, I am completely engaged with whatever I’m doing. I allow myself the privilege of not dividing my attention all over the place because I want to focus completely on one task.

You can pick out these moments in your days too.

When your friend tells a joke, do you stop laughing to check your phone? Or when you’re writing an essay and you feel everything just fall into place, do you want to go onto twitter or continue working?

Peace is valuable

The peace found from disconnecting from social media, from people, from mindless consumption simply gives us a mental break and allows us to spend more time focusing on single things.

Given that we have a limited amount of time and energy each day, why not spend that time trying our best to become immersed in things that we truly enjoy. An example of what not to become immersed in is social media.

While Twitter and Facebook can be enjoyable, I’ve found in my own experience, talking to friends, and researching why we should spend less time on things like the news, spending too long on them is rarely satisfying. I see as something that stops us from being bored instead of keeping us engaged.

This is not my crusade against social media (you’ll understand why at the end). What is important here is to understand the problem with living with distractions all throughout the day.

The solution is to disconnect.

 

How to disconnect

Thankfully this is quite simple. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy given how tempting distractions are.

  1. Be mindful

Throughout the day, be aware of the times that you’re entering a distraction-rich environment. This can be as simple as sitting down and having all your social media profiles open at the same time to being at work and finding yourself just talking to coworkers and friends throughout the day.

Being aware that you’re simply floating on the surface of something engaging rather than diving in is the first step to removing needless distractions from your day. It’s easy to become consumed by distractions without realising you’re doing so until you’ve already wasted valuable energy and time.

Ask yourself, is what you’re doing actually increasing your well-being? Does it bring you any joy?

  1. Retreat

Sometimes it’s best to completely cut off from social media, other people and whatever takes you away from what you’re enjoying. This doesn’t mean tell all your friends you’re never talking to them again. Well, if you do, that wasn’t inspired by me.

Set times for when you’re going to enter states of complete focus or for when you will not check distraction heavy places like twitter and emails. 

If you want, you can choose to go into complete solace where there is no internet, no other people. There’s just you and your desire to live an engaging day. These “internet-free” retreats have become more popular but you can just design your environment that way by turning off your internet and disabling data on your phone.

 

Screenshot (13)

  1. Find engaging things to do.

The newfound peace is helpful without anything else added to it. Simply sitting in the park or going for a calm walk has benefits when they’re distraction free. However, it might be difficult to maintain if your free time involves a lot of nothing. That’s why it’s helpful to use this calm to engage your creativity.

Spend time creating. Whether that is through writing, drawing, singing, gaming, whatever. Let go of the useless idea that you’re “not creative”.

You cannot get better at creating without creating. Nor does anyone start their day as the perfect creator. You practice. You suck at first. Then you suck a bit less. Then you start to think “Well, I’m not terrible”. Then you build more confidence and continue.

It’s more difficult to create than it is to consume. Thankfully, creating comes with much more intense benefits than mindless consumption does.

Creating is not the only way to be mindfully engaged with your days. You can watch films, read good books or go for a run. All without distraction. A time when you can enter the flow.

 

The friendly silence…

… is found through disconnecting from distractions and mindless noise that takes you away from being engaged with your own day. It might expose difficulties you purposefully chose to avoid but at least you can now confront the fear and defeat it.

It’s rare to focus but it gives much better rewards.


Thanks to Derek Sivers for the blog post on disconnecting. It reminded me how valuable it can be.

Similar reading:

The Low Information Diet

A very Short Guide to Meditation

Ok, this is probably quite ironic but I have some social media you can follow me on. Please don’t hate me. I just heard it’s a good thing. Still, don’t spend all day on it. Not even mine.

Like me on facebook and follow me on twitter. Here are my mascots:

twitter and facebook mascots :D

Sisu – Developing mental toughness in the face of adversity

 

World War Two. 30th November 1939.

The Finnish had a slight problem.

The Soviet Union invaded Finland with a total of one million troops to the fins’ 300 thousand. 4000 planes to their 114. 2500 tanks to their 32. Being outnumbered 3 to 1 in war isn’t only near insurmountable, it is guaranteed death.  

Seeing no silver lining – they jumped into the storm anyway.

Sisu

This term, Sisu, doesn’t have a direct translation into English. Emilia Lahti, in her remarkable TED-talk, explains that it can be seen as “extraordinary determination and resoluteness in the face of extreme adversity”.

Sisu is an interesting term because it is almost like the final boost we have when we feel like we’re breaking down in front of a problem. I’d liken it to getting a blue shell in Mario Kart but that’s disgraceful – Sisu is not. It’s remarkable.

And much like those Finnish warriors, we all have it.

The Winter War presented the Finnish soldiers with the biggest challenge they will ever have to face. A Goliath knocked on their door and demanded they surrender. Finland refused. The Goliath barged in and chose to take it by force. Again, Finland stood its ground.

How do you approach such problems with high morale instead of feeling defeated?

How do you keep on going when failure is the only thing inviting itself in?

What do you do when you’ve reached the end of your capabilities?

Sisu.

Extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity

How do we utilise Sisu?

Stay in the present moment – Don’t create extra problems that don’t exist yet by looking into the future or mulling on past regrets. Staying in the present means we focus on the problem as it is rather than how we think it might be.

As a result, we don’t needlessly exaggerate problems. Doing so rarely helps and instead paralyses our desire to take action.

Of course, this does not mean problems can’t be horrendous or extremely tough to manage. We’ll grieve, cry, become angry and curse the gods for leaving us here.

However, this cannot be the only thing we do.

Make a choice to take action. When the Finnish were fighting, they had to make the conscious decision that they were going to do something about it. This is important. While we’re likely to think we’re going to do something, often times, we do just that. Think about it and never move forward.

It’s much easier to think about how you’re going to handle something difficult indefinitely by getting stuck in the loop of justifying yourself. Never facing the fear of completing what you set out to do. Sometimes it’s best to let the fear pass but in these difficult situations when Sisu is needed, the cloud of fear may never leave you reveal a clear sky. You jump into the storm anyway.

Becoming a person of action when faced with problems fills us with great confidence and shows us that we’re often able to handle it much more than we could have ever imagined.

If you do these two things, a few benefits follow.

  1. We limit complaining.

Life can seriously suck sometimes. There are a multitude of barriers we might face. It ranges from eating spicy food, wiping your eyes with chili covered hands, crying then realising you have no tissues to being in a violent spiral of debt.

Endless complaining, no matter how justified it seems, prevents anything from happening and gives us reasons to complain even more. Much like venting our anger, complaining might become an enjoyable thing to do even if we can’t admit that to ourselves.

Screenshot (10)

  1. We regain confidence.

Remembering Sisu helps us realise that we have more power over our problems than at first thought. When our intense effort and determination pays off, we’ll only have ourselves to thank.

  1. We remember that these are very human problems.

This is one of those things that’s easier to understand than it is to explain.

Everyone struggles at some point in their lives. Sometimes it lasts longer with greater intensity than others.

The idea isn’t to compare your problems to others. Nor is it to think you’re solely unique. It’s extremely helpful to find strength in the fact that others have suffered similar fates and made it through.

You might feel alone.

You might feel lost.

You might feel hopeless.

You can make it through the storm. No doubt it’ll be difficult and frustrating. But we’re stronger than we think.

Life without any adversity will be a life without any progress. We have this idea that we become better despite our problems but what if we become better because of them?

The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition”

This doesn’t mean we can’t dislike the adversity. I hate being in pain for example. However, that isn’t to say that I haven’t learned anything at all. I don’t think I would have started this blog or learned how to study effectively without it.

Sometimes, we owe our strengths to the problems that forced us to develop them.

Remember Sisu when you’re writing essays and revising for exams but feel like you have no more left.

Remember Sisu when you’re in pain and the only goal you have is to get out of bed.

Remember Sisu when everything in front of you seems to fall apart and blocks the light at the end of the tunnel.

If the tunnel caves in, Sisu reminds us that there’s one more option – break the wall down and create the light at the end of the tunnel yourself.


 

Thanks to James Clear and Emilia Lahti (TEDx talk) for introducing this idea to me.

I have a poorly used twitter account. Follow it. Thanks. You the best. @ImprovingSlowly

 

The Social Model of Disability Fails – Dissertation pt. 6

The social model of disability, while useful, liberating,  and accurate in many respects, it ultimately fails. The following are my concluding remarks.

Here are the previous parts:

The Two Models of Disability (part 1)

Martha Nussbaum on Emotions and Flourishing (part 2)

Here’s What It Means to be Angry (part 3)

Should I be so angry? (part 4)

What is Left for the Social Model of Disability? (part 5)


 

In this essay, I have paid special attention to the emotional experience of an impairment, its relationship to disability and the social model of disability.

First, I explained the social model and the important ideas it introduces to understanding disability. Key to it is the three dichotomies it creates between impairment and disability, the disabled and non-disabled, and the medical model and the social model of disability.

Second, I discussed the model of emotions offered my Martha Nussbaum which claimed that emotions have an object, they are intentional and form beliefs about the object. This leads to the conclusion that rational emotions have some intelligence about them.

From this, I moved onto discussing anger specifically and engaged with Amia Srinivasan’s discussion of when anger is genuine. Her concerns were largely political but I attempted to expand her definition to non-moral violations. In other words, I asked and answered whether you can rightfully be angry at an impairment without being angry at another person. The following section argued that it appropriate when the impairment is harmful, and sets back your interests unfairly by significantly limiting your life projects. This can be seen as disabling. Due to this, we have an intermediate conclusion that because you can be angry at a disabling impairment. The social model of disability does not accept that impairments are disabling so the social model goes askew.

There was possible resistance to my argument by saying it does not matter whether you can but you should not be angry. This follows a long list of people rejecting the usefulness or value of angry but the charge remained unsuccessful for two reasons. Anger can be very useful via its epistemic productivity and asking whether you should be angry can miss the point because emotions do not need to be justified in terms of whether they are productive. They can simply be appropriate. As a result of this discussion, I found that the social model rejects other emotions such as sadness because they can be directed towards the impairment.

Recognising the place anger and sadness have in a person’s understanding of impairment is not a flaw or a one-trip ticket to making people feel worse. To ignore it is to prevent people from ‘dealing with the difficult aspects of impairment’ and limit personal understanding of how impairments such as ‘depression, fatigue, chronic pain prevent us from realising our full potential’ (Crow, 1996). The experience of impairment is often dynamic and invites a range of difficult emotions and the social model of disability cannot appreciate this. For this reason, I argue we should move on from it.


 

And that’s it. It took a lot of thinking, reading and personal revelations to finish but I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve learned that I care much more about disability than I ever thought I would.

I’ve learned that there’s a lot of good literature out there on disability (even if much of it is skewed towards the social model).

I’ve learned that thinking about things for a long time is difficult and frustrating but very satisfying when it works out in the end.

Libraries fill up too quickly. People actually sleep in the library which is kinda mad because why would you do that

Books on disability are ironically placed on the top shelves in some libraries.

I have a lot to learn yet.

I hope you enjoyed it.


 

I won’t post the whole reference list (unless someone asks, I had like 0.3 books on it anyway) but here are some of the most important pieces I used:

  • Lorde, Audre. 1984. The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, Women and Language, 11.1, December 1987
  • Nussbaum, Martha, Upheaval of Thought, Cambridge University Press, 2001
  • Seneca, Lucius Annasus., On Anger, in ‘Moral Essays vol.1’, Trans. John W. Basore, The Loeb Classical Library, London: W. Heinemann, 1928
  • Shakespeare, Tom., Disability Rights and Wrongs, Routledge, 2006
  • Srinivasan, Amia., The Aptness of Anger, 2015 [Available here: http://users.ox.ac.uk/~corp1468/Research_&_Writing_files/The%20Aptness%20of%20Anger_Current.pdf]

Ok, I’ll stop talking now. Bye. Back to regular content.

 

What Is Left For The Social Model of Disability? – Dissertation pt. 5

And we’re reaching the end – this and one more part to go.

So far, I have explained the different models of disability, laid a framework for how we can understand emotions then established that we can be angry at an impairment for being disabling.

I don’t believe the social model allows this and as a result, it is wrong. Now I ask, what else can be done to save the social model? Does this conclusion affect other emotions?

Previous parts:

The Two Models of Disability (part 1)

Martha Nussbaum on Emotions and Flourishing (part 2)

Here’s What It Means to be Angry (part 3)

Should I be so angry? (part 4)


Does the social model of disability exclude any other emotions?

The discussion on anger and the social model has some wider implications for when emotions are appropriate. It seems to lead to the conclusion that the social model rejects more emotions than anger. Again, how does the social model reject anger?

1) The conception of disability has an external direction. Only society disables people with impairments.
2) Therefore, impairments are not disabling.
3) One can be angry at an impairment because it is disabling.
4) If 2 is true, 3 cannot also be true.
5) You cannot be angry at an impairment because it is disabling.

As we can see, if the emotion is directed towards the impairment rather than society, then the social model must conclude that the emotion is misguided or misattributed. Can other emotions fit this model? I believe so. That is, if the emotion has an object which can be non-agent centred. I will briefly assess sadness to see whether the social model would be forced to reject it given my argument.

Sadness: a reasonably similar emotion to anger in the sense that it is often a reaction to an unpleasant object or event in the world. I might be sad that I did not get a good grade in an essay or angry, either at myself or the people marking it, and claim I should have received a good grade. This sadness has a particular object which can be triggered by not being able to have something you cared about (Callard, 2010). Can you be sad about an impairment independent of what society is doing to disable you? It seems very possible. For similar reasons for why a person who is going blind might be angry because they cannot see what they want to see, she could also be sad she wants to see and cannot. This is in contrast to wanting to continue with her everyday activities with relative ease despite being blind and society prevents that from happening due to its poor arrangement. In this case, the social model would also have to reject sadness as an appropriate reaction to impairments being disabling.

How can the social model of disability survive?

With what has been argued so far, it is difficult to see how the social model of disability can move forward. Especially since it is opposed to the idea that impairments are disabling. A modification which comes to mind is that rather that society being the only cause for disability, we can soften the definition and say society is the primary reason for disability. Therefore, we can still include bodily experience as a reason for disability. However, while appealing and I definitely view this as a better version of the social model, it still falls short. This is because it would not allow for the body and its impairments to be a primary factor in disability. In the process, it would continue to reject the emotional reaction towards impairment as justified because of it would not accept disabilities which have no societal cause.

Another route is to deny that it is a definition of disability and claim it is merely a ‘tool’ for ending discrimination. Doing this means all explanatory power is lost. Rather than answering the question of what it means for a person to have a disability or be disabled, it can only answer the question pertaining to whether disabled people suffer any oppressions. To which the answer is yes. However, because it does not aim to define disability it would be tenuous to claim that society can cause disability for people with impairments.

These suggestions, in conjunction with the detailed discussion above, lead us to the direction that the social model cannot survive the problems I have presented. For a model of disability to be successful, it needs to include the bodily experience of impairment as a route for understanding disability.


 

Does the social model of disability fail? Or is there another way to incorporate bodily experience into its definition? 

Thanks for reading!

Should I be so angry? – Dissertation pt. 4

Another one? I did say it would a six part series. I’ve shown (hopefully) that it can be appropriate to be angry at an impairment (for being disabling) and now move onto asking whether you should be angry.

I enjoyed writing this section. Interesting stuff. In fact, I’d say all of it is interesting but I’m not reliable since I wrote it.

Maybe my next essay will be “Can I be too humble?”.  Anyway, although it’s the longest section, enjoy the rest of the argument :)

The previous posts:

The Two Models of Disability (part 1)

Martha Nussbaum on Emotions and Flourishing (part 2)

Here’s What It Means to be Angry (part 3)


 

I have established an important premise in my argument. It can be appropriate to be angry at an impairment and its disabling nature. This emphasised with the knowledge that disabling factors cannot always or completely be attributed to the poor design of society. However, because of this, if we accept the social model of disability, it does not regard these emotions as legitimate because impairments cannot cause these problems. One move left to be made is for the social model proponent to argue that you should not be angry because it is counter-productive or useless.

If it is established that you should not be angry at your impairment, then it matters much less whether it is appropriate to be so. The social model theorist could claim to only be concerned with the times you should be angry rather than trying to accommodate for ‘appropriate’ ones. I will now explain the objections to being angry.

“Anger is harmful and offers no new knowledge”

Opposition to anger has a long history going back to ancient philosophers such as Seneca and the tradition has come in more modern forms. Seneca had this to say about anger:

The other emotions have in them some element of peace and calm, while this one is wholly violent and has its being in an onrush of resentment, raging with a most inhuman lust for weapons, blood, and punishment, giving no thought to itself if only it can hurt another, hurling itself upon the very point of dagger, and eager for revenge though it may drag down the avenger along with it (1928, Essay 1-107)

Although our modern conceptions of anger do not need to be encoded with the desire to have revenge, this is still an important idea. Anger is said to harm the person who is angry and “Anger embodies nothing useful” (ibid. Essay 1-129). This is quite damning because it makes anger seem like the most useless of emotions and we definitely should not experience. In the context of a disability, anger would be an emotion which makes the experience of disability worse by intensifying the limitations one experiences.

Glen Pettigrove and Koji Tanaka (2014) helpfully point out some more opposition to anger in the Buddhist tradition. Santideva argues a few interesting points.

  • Anger is pointless (Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life vi. 10)
  • Anger presupposes a confused, unduly partial perspective, which gives exaggerated weight to my perceived interests and insufficient weight to the interests of others (vi. 4-5).

Here, again, the discussion of anger is agent centred but the objection can still hold if we do not consider the insufficient weight to the interests of others. Rather it can be interpreted as not taking enough consideration of:

  • Our own interests (to not feel worse because of our disability).
  • How we think our bodies and lives ought to be.

With this, we should not be angry because we have a misguided perspective on what the actual significance of the effect disability has on our lives. This will be important for the future discussion but I will explain briefly a more modern form of opposition to anger.

Pettigrove and Tanaka (2014), in one of their many points, argue that anger is not particularly epistemically useful. They argue and present evidence for the fact that anger is regularly misleading with respect to its proper object and unrelated objects which may follow (p.281). They present the case that anger often leads people to participate in biased, heuristic-reasoning and become less likely to accept evidence which is contrary to their view (p.280)[1]. Moreover, they cite Randolph Nesse (2005) in saying that anger works on the smoke detector principle – meaning it generates more false alarms than true ones. In place of anger in political contexts, Pettigrove promotes meekness as a virtue (Pettigrove, 2012).

This counter-productivity critique is arguably more potent with respect to disability than related discussions about anger towards other agents or political systems. When discussing other people and public policy, we have a greater ability to control the object (people, public policy, etc.) and direct it to productive change. If I am angry that a building does not accommodate for people with mobility concerns, then I can demand that the building managers make appropriate changes where they can. As I mentioned earlier, the social model snuggly fits into the notion of agent-centred anger. In contrast to disability and impairment, it is more difficult to see how anger might lead to productive change. It may force to me to demand a cure but that involves making claims against others. What this says is that anger might be so counter-productive because it is futile. It is directed towards an almost inert object and that fact alone might exaggerate the anger even further.

There are more different forms of oppositions to anger but they usually take a politicised form which Srinivasan (2015) discusses in great detail. However, I wish to focus only on the idea that one should not be angry because it is counter-productive, does not contain useful information and it harms you.

I will tackle the first two arguments together. In response to these criticisms of anger, I argue that the experience of anger can be very epistemically productive. It gives us knowledge which might have been hidden to us before. In the context of agent-centred anger, one might become angry at an injustice which you did not realise was a problem.

In the context of disability, I will aim to demonstrate the epistemic productivity of anger by showing its productivity parallels well with realising injustice in political situations. In the 1950s and 60s,  Malcom X was seen as a very angry figure who was too radical not only in his aims but approaches to achieving them, especially when contrasted with his calmer contemporary, Martin Luther King Jr. His anger came from the historical and continued racial injustice committed by White Americans against Black Americans spanning hundreds of years. With this, we can see that the experience of an injustice or unfairness can cause anger. As a result, the experience of anger led to the knowledge they are experiencing injustice.

The knowledge granted by emotions in the previous example can be had with impairments. If someone suffers from chronic pain, they might come to realise that the reason why they are angry with their progression is because pain is very limiting. Then the anger is epistemically productive because it grants the knowledge that pain is disabling (rather than just not trying hard enough for example). Our bodies and knowledge of impairments are intimately tied to one another even though we can get things wrong about our own bodies. Being limited by your body, can be a very obvious experience for we are always experiencing what it feels like to use our bodies. We can have simple knowledge of it (i.e. ‘I cannot hear’ or ‘I am in continuous pain’) but that alone does not always signify a limitation because some do not view impairments as necessarily limiting[2]. When an impairment becomes disabling, then it might trigger anger and cause us to say “this impairment is harming me and places a significant limit on me”.

Therefore, anger contains useful information about impairments and the fact they can be disabling when we realise that it limits us from achieving significant life projects. A few points need to be emphasised. First, the notion of unfairness is important and must be remembered otherwise there is the risk of saying anything which prevents you from getting what you want can be appropriately responded to with anger. Secondly, the idea of significant life projects will be clarified. This notion is connected to the concept of Eudaimonia and personal flourishing. Meaning if personal flourishing is significantly limited by the impairment, this is usually regarded as disabling. Moreover, this might reflect things that nearly all humans desire for themselves (such as not being in pain or being able to recognise faces). Generally, this limitation will be long-term and have a near continuous presence in their everyday lives. Of course, people can dramatically change their goals and no longer view their impairment as a limit but as a reason for their flourishing. This is consistent with my argument.

I want to emphasise the focus on non-agent-centred anger versus agent-centred anger. Problems such as structural racism and sexism have a root cause in other people causing oppression by placing limits on others and causing harms. In this sense, society is disabling. However, with impairments being disabling, while society can be the cause of disability, it is not sufficient. An impairment can cause disability by placing limits on the person and causing harm without involving other people.

This is an important move for a few reasons. First, it means that disabilities which have no clear social remedies (this does not include curing the impairment) can be understood through the emotional experience of it. Perhaps another claim which follows is that emotions can contain valuable epistemic information. Disabilities such as chronic pain and fatigue often prevent people from achieving significant life projects, even if those projects are to not be in consistent pain or simply live a life without this general reduction in well-being.

A brief counter to whether one should or should not be angry might take the following form:

If one is learning how to walk, and they become angry because they find it very difficult, it might be responded that they should not be harsh on themselves.

However, while it may have good intentions, it can be misguided. They might respond by saying they are not angry at themselves because they are at no fault. They are angry that their impairment is preventing them from walking.

It might also be argued “do not be angry at things you cannot control.” If we cannot control the state of our disability, then we should not be angry at all. I ask that you recall the condition of significance and Eudaimonia in the discussion of emotions earlier. I could be angry because it is something I cannot control and feel I ought to be able to. For example, I myself cannot directly control whether systematic racism continues to exist or not and the fact it does exist, makes me angry. On the other hand, I cannot control whether the buses are on time (or show up at all) but the promptness of buses is much less significant to my life projects than experiencing racism is. Here it can be seen that the significance of the event can help us understand whether one should or should not be angry. If the event ends up being insignificant on a bigger picture, then there may be no need. On the other hand, if it remains significant to your life, then it is easier to deflect the criticism that you should not be angry.

Secondly, given the information that anger does contain, it prevents the social model theorist from attempting to explain away the emotional experience towards their body by explaining everything in terms of societal oppression. If a person is blind and is angry they cannot see anymore, it would be irresponsible to dismiss it by attempting to explain it solely in terms of what society has not done for them. It is true that society could do much more to help them navigate the world properly. It is not true that their projects are to simply being able to navigate the world nor should that be their only project or desire. They can be much more complex and personal. A blind person may want to see their child and their body prevents that from happening.

The third objection – anger is harmful – stands up better in face of criticism. It is plausible to believe that anger does make the experience of disability worse. Largely because it brings a negative section of your life to centre stage and makes you engage with it intensely. When one is angry, it is rarely a passive engagement between you and the object and thus can decrease well-being quite substantially. If something harms you, you wish not to be harmed then you ought not to be angry. Yet, I do not think this is enough to establish that one should not be angry. This is strengthened by the above points on the epistemic productivity of anger and leads to a different argument – does it matter if one should not be angry?

There is something to be said about whether someone ‘should’ be angry at an impairment or anything at all. Here, the separation between the ‘can’ and the ‘should’ becomes important. Anger (and other emotions) do not need to be justified solely in terms of their productivity or in terms of how they influence your well-being. If one is angry at a moral violation then that explains and justifies their anger. Remarking they should not be angry does not address the reason for their anger but says their reaction to it is mistaken. This is a problematic response because ignoring the reason for the anger is a perfect way to undermine personal testimony. This is undermined without reference to their reasons for being angry but the thought that one should not be angry for the reasons discussed above. It is enough that it is apt even if we have a case of apt counter-productive anger (Srinivasan, 2015, p.20).

So far I have argued that the criticisms of whether we should be angry fail. One last qualification needs to be made. I am not arguing that there is an obligation to be angry at an impairment even if it would be appropriate to be. Rather, if a person is angry, it not easily dismissed as counter-productive or being too harmful to be useful. With this, the social model of disability excludes anger as an appropriate emotional response to impairment which is an important mistake.


[1] Interestingly enough, they also argue (as Seneca does) that anger characteristically contains the desire to lash out at whatever has wronged you. This is a mistaken addition for a two main reasons. 1) Modern conceptions of anger do not need to contain that condition and you especially would not be justified in doing so simply because you are also justified in being angry. See Myles Burnyeat’s rejection of this (2002) and 2) given the earlier establishment that you can be angry at an impairment, there is no person to be angry at in this case.

[2] It is worthwhile to note the idea that impairment can also be socially determined. If this is true, then people might not find impairments limiting because society has not caused whatever biological factor in question to be a limitation. See Shakespeare (2006).


 

If you’ve made it this far, thanks. I hope you enjoyed the argument.

Do you think anger is useful? 

For long time readers of the blog (and people with the memories of the-opposite-of-a-goldfish) you might recall me writing this about anger. Do you think I’ve contradicted myself?

Thanks for reading!