Basic Orientation
Book1: R-E Living & "Homo Rationalis"
Editing Explanation
Introduction: Most Important Book
Basic Methods In This Book
The Three Exponential Changes
Basics: Determinants Of Behavior
Basics: Ethics
Rational-Ethical Anger Prevention
Rational-Ethical Child Rearing
Rational-Ethical Belief Management
Rational-Ethical Government
Book2: Mind-Body Problem
Book3: Humanianity
Introduction: Humanianity 2020
Philosophico-Religious Issues
Psycho-Socio-Cultural Issues
The Twelve Articles
Relevant Autobiography




This book is about optimizing living, that is, fostering decision-making that is least likely to become regarded as a mistake (that therefore reduces quality of life). We must, in order to optimize living, understand the determinants of behavior in a way that allows us to optimize our decision-making.

We have seen that all behavior (decision-making) can be understood (modeled) as being determined by motivational states "channeled through" beliefs, and that beliefs themselves, in addition to all other states of mind (perceptions, memories, fantasies, etc.), can come to be able to produce or intensify motivational states. Anger, to be further defined below, is one of the motivational states.

It is my contention that the motivational state of anger and the behaviors (decisions) that are produced in response to it play the primary role in most of our human-induced hardship and tragedy, from the personal, interpersonal, and family level all the way to the global level. They are operative in most instances of breakdown of marriages, parent-child relationships, employer-employee relationships, and intimate relationships in general; "sibling rivalry"; meanness, teasing, bullying, and scapegoating; destructiveness; "adolescent rebellion"; child abuse and elder abuse (by both children and adults); rape; cruelty to animals; sadism and torture; self-injurious behavior and suicide; harassment (sexual and other); discrimination, "bashing," and persecution; conflict, inefficiency, passive aggression, underachievement, and absenteeism in our schools and in the workplace; lawsuits and protests; theft and vandalism (including production of computer viruses); public and domestic violence, battering, and murder; "wilding," rampaging, and rioting; serial killing, mass murder, and assassination; and revolution and war (including terrorism, purging, and ethnic cleansing).

It is also my contention that anger and related phenomena are an underlying factor in much illness and premature "natural" death. Anger has been shown to have deleterious and potentially fatal effects on the cardiovascular system and the immune system. Anger also produces fear, or anxiety, in others and in self, and this anxiety produces many of the other symptoms and complications seen in some of the psychiatric disorders, which may in turn carry a substantially high mortality rate. And since the status of our primary relationships is one of the most important determinants of our physical and mental health, the appearance of anger in those relationships, heralding potential or actual relationship breakdown, represents a major threat to our physical and mental health.

I believe that the prevention of anger is our most important endeavor, in the service of promoting both the survival of and the good life for our species, meaning all of us, now and in the future. And since we can prevent anger only by understanding it, such understanding is, I advocate, one of our greatest obligations. But we must have an effective way of understanding it, a way of understanding it such that we know what to do when it occurs or is likely to occur. The way of understanding it must be simple, clear, and adequately accurate in order to be useful in day-to-day interactions in our personal lives. It must be easily taught to children and easily applied to any anger-containing situation. It must provide guidance that is effective.

At the time of writing this book, the phrase "anger management" has become widely used. During my practice of psychiatry, and especially in the context of my work with couples, I began to use this phrase to describe my approach. As far as I can remember, at the time that I began using the phrase, I had not heard it used elsewhere. But it indeed was not long before I began hearing the phrase frequently, until it became widely used. I suppose it was a concept that was emerging at that time in our culture, and it simply emerged in me at the same time. However, my approach to this area was my own synthesis from all of my past professional experience and my philosophical orientation, and it has been my observation that what others call anger management is not what I use or advocate. Therefore, although initially I used the phrase, "anger management," I know that others would attribute meanings to the phrase that are different than those which I wish to use, and for that reason I am using a different phrase, namely, "anger prevention." In other words, I wish for the reader to let me develop a set of concepts regarding this area of thought without contaminating them with meanings and concepts that others have used. This procedure is in keeping with the general procedure in this book of developing a basic set of concepts, utilizing a set of definitions that are for the purposes only of this book.

The reader might think that my use of the term "anger prevention" means that I believe that it is possible to eliminate the experience of anger from our lives, and of course the reader would therefore be highly skeptical that I had something sensible to offer. Since anger and related phenomena are indeed built into our basic animal nature, that which we share with most of the other higher animals, I don't expect that capacity to diminish. But I maintain that anger almost always has negative consequences as far as the good life for our species is concerned, and I therefore believe that it is to our benefit if we can, to the extent possible, prevent anger from occurring in the first place, prevent anger from escalating, prevent anger from continuing, prevent anger from recurring, and prevent anger from having a deleterious effect, as long as the methods of doing so do not cause some other problems that are even worse.

More specifically, there will be those that will say, "Under certain circumstances, anger is good and healthy. We just need to manage it properly when we have it." I will be taking a different approach to this whole area of concern. I will be slicing the orange in a different manner. I ask the reader to suspend judgment regarding the value of my approach till he or she fully understands it.

Another reason why I avoid the use of the phrase "anger management" is that this term has become widely used as something to be learned by those individuals who "have a problem with anger." Thus, many would specifically avoid undertaking understanding this area of thought because of a belief that it does not apply to them, since they do not have a "problem with anger." I wish the reader to understand that what I am writing about in this chapter is of major concern to all of us, no matter how well we might believe we "manage" our own anger.

Let us consider that there are two different kinds of anger prevention, namely external anger prevention and internal anger prevention.

Let external anger prevention be the effort to work on solving the problem in the world (self and environment) that is causing the anger, most usually a problem in an interpersonal relationship.

Let internal anger prevention be the effort to change one's inner perspective such that the problem in the world no longer produces anger (or as much anger).

In actuality, there is no clear distinction between these two concepts, since external anger prevention works best when accompanied by internal anger prevention. Also, principles of internal anger prevention will be derived from an understanding of external anger prevention. There are some situations, however, in which only internal anger prevention is feasible, there being no way to improve the situation. It is probably always more desirable to accomplish external anger prevention, if possible.

Most of this chapter will deal with external anger prevention.

In my practice, the problem of anger would present itself most clearly when a couple would come to me in a state of relationship breakdown, with the hope that I might "salvage the relationship." Under those circumstances, I offered to help not only by working on the issues involved in the breakdown of the relationship, but also by teaching a different set of behaviors in response to the appearance of anger than those behaviors that were customary for the couple and that had already demonstrated their ineffectiveness.

I would begin my presentation with the clarification that relationship breakdown, such as this couple was having, is a normal and natural phenomenon, though definitely not good.

If we, for example, examine male-female relationships, we find that when a couple get married, each individual has usually had one or more prior relationships that have broken down. We know that, at least at the time of the writing of this book, about one-half of marriages currently end in divorce. Thus, those relationships have also broken down. If we then take a look at those marriages that persist, I believe we will find that many of those relationships have broken down (meaning that the original intimacy and affection are gone), even though for various reasons the individuals prefer to remain together. Thus, it would appear that the likelihood of a relationship lasting and retaining its intimacy and affection is low, and that therefore the breakdown of relationships appears to be the rule rather than the exception, and is therefore normal. Again, to say that relationship breakdown is normal is not to say that it is good.

We may ask two questions. (1) Why do relationships break down so frequently? (2) Is there a way to prevent this process from occurring?

My answers to the two questions are as follows. (1) Relationships usually (not always) break down because of the build-up of anger in those relationships, according to a specific, natural process, which will be described in detail. (2) There is indeed a way, or method, to reduce the likelihood of this process occurring, or to increase the likelihood of reversing it when it begins to occur, but it requires that at least one of the individuals learn how to do something different from that which occurs naturally, as a part of our basic animal nature. (It is important to recognize that no method is going to be one hundred percent effective, and that some relationships will not survive, and perhaps shouldn't survive, even with the most strenuous and conscientious application of the method. But absence of perfection does not imply absence of value.)

Thus, we will be looking at the process of the build-up of anger in relationships and at a set of principles that will help the individual prevent or reverse that process.

The reader should note that these principles represent ethical rules of conduct to be used specifically in anger-containing situations. They are things that one should do under such circumstances. As such, they are ethical beliefs, that will produce the ethical sense that will serve as a motivational state that will, with the appropriate ethical beliefs, produce behavior that is substantially different than that which would be likely to occur in such circumstances, that is, substantially different from that which our basic animal nature would tend to produce.

To become as general as possible, we may conceptualize relationships as being of two types, peer and hierarchical.

A peer relationship shall mean a relationship in which the society does not assume, and does not assign, a position of dominance of one over the other. A position of dominance means that if one tells the other what to do, the other is expected to do it (to obey), unless to do so would be unethical. An example of a peer relationship would be that of "friends." In some subcultures, husband and wife would be peers. There are other subcultures in which one spouse would be considered to be dominant over the other.

A hierarchical relationship shall mean a relationship in which the society assumes, or assigns, a position of dominance of one over the other. This assignment or assumption by the society may be by virtue of an agreement that the two individuals have entered into, or it may be by virtue of the basic nature of the relationship. Hierarchical relationships are exemplified by the parent-child relationship, the employer-employee relationship, the leader-member relationship, etc. It should be noted that in hierarchical relationships there is a generally understood domain of decision-making in which dominance is assumed and expected, but also a domain of decision-making in which domination of one by the other would not be assumed. Thus, even in a hierarchical relationship, the individuals, in certain areas of decision-making, would still be peers. Such decision-making would be considered the "right" of the individual. The individual would be considered to have "the right to autonomy" with regard to certain decision-making, while being expected to adhere to the decisions of the other with regard to certain other decision-making.

There are, therefore, three possible relationship positions, peer, superior, and subordinate.

For a given pair of individuals, each individual might have two (or perhaps even three) different positions with regard to the other. Such a relationship might be referred to as a "dual" relationship. An example might be that of a husband (in a peer relationship marriage) having a business in which his wife works as an employee. (Such relationships, of course, can become complicated and problematic because of lack of clarity as to whether, in a particular domain of decision-making, the relationship is peer or hierarchical.)

Within a peer relationship, the two may decide to make one part of their decision-making be the responsibility of a hierarchical relationship between the two of them. Husband and wife may agree that the wife will make decisions about the kitchen and that the husband will make decisions about the car. Such role taking is not dictated by the forms (expectations) inherent in the culture, as would be true, for instance, of the employer-employee relationship or the relationships among members at "different levels" within organizations.

I intend to present an anger prevention paradigm that will be helpful in dealing with the situation in which anger has arisen in the relationship between two individuals who are peers. This is the simplest case, and it is the approach that is most useful in considering the problems of a couple. After this model has been developed, I will extend it to other situations of greater complexity.

We need to agree on specific meanings of words for the purpose of this effort.

There are no good words in general usage for discussion of this topic, because any particular word may refer to more than one phenomenon, and the same phenomenon may be referred to by more than one word. The use of words in such a manner leads to confusion and the appearance of disagreement when there really is none, this situation leading in turn to the breakdown of communication and the halting of progress in understanding and agreement.

Examples of problems in using words without prior definition are statements such as: "No, I am not angry, I am just (hurt) ("flustrated") (aggravated) (tired of...) (ill) (puzzled) (etc.)." A man once said to me, "No, I am not angry at you; if I were, you would be lying on the floor."

Our effort will be to derive or design a set of principles to be used in decision-making in anger-containing situations. If we have ten different words for the phenomenon of anger, and other related phenomena, then it will be hard to identify a particular situation as one in which a particular principle applies. If the principle were a rule that stated "If X occurs, I should do Y," but X were labeled by several different names, then there would need to be several different principles to cover X1, X2, etc. It would be easy to fail to realize that the same principle applied to each of the specific situations.

In my work with couples, I encourage them to keep terms to a minimum, and to use terms that have been defined in the model, so that understanding will be easier. (By "term" I mean simply a set of one or more words that has a specifically defined meaning within the model or paradigm that is being discussed.) Under other circumstances, such as the writing of poetry, having variety would be more optimal.

Let us assume, then, for our purposes, that anger shall refer to the feeling inside the individual or animal, and to all of those neurological (especially brain) and other bodily processes that are associated with that feeling. Now I am not actually making the assumption that the non-human animal has "feelings" in the sense of the subjective feelings that we humans have (though I happen to believe that at least the higher animals do), but if we see the animal having physiological reactions that are similar to ours when we have anger, then we can at least model that animal's behavior with concepts that include the animal having "the feeling of anger" in its "mind."

We know that there are times when an individual may be unaware that he or she has anger active in his or her body. (This can occur with the psychological defense mechanism of "repression," for instance.) In such a case, some of the usual neurological components of that total bodily state would be missing (those that accompany, and are necessary for, the subjective feeling of anger). The remainder, however, would be present, presumably. And almost always, if an individual who is having anger looks inward sufficiently, that is, examines "how he or she is feeling," he or she will be able to conclude that anger is indeed present.

For our purposes, we will assume that the reader knows how anger feels, from personal experience, and we will also assume that the reader is aware of at least some methods of making an animal, including a human, have anger.

It should be noted, however, that anger is often accompanied by other feelings, such as anxiety (fear) or sadness. Because of this, the experience of anger may seem different in different situations or cases. The presence of these other feelings may lead the person to label the emotional state differently, as in referring to it as feeling "hurt." Also, because of the complexity of the emotional state, the person may find the term "anger" to be an inadequate one, and he or she may use a more general term, such as being "upset," "stressed," "disturbed," etc.

There is also a tendency for individuals to use different terms for different degrees of anger. We should recognize that anger, or any motivational state for that matter, may be absent or present in any degree of intensity, and, as I have already pointed out, it will be helpful if we use the same term for anger of any intensity. Thus, "slight irritation" and "rage" will be referred to only as "anger."

So, in all that follows, the reader should remember that we are looking at all of those situations in which anger is present, no matter what other feelings or emotions might also be present, and no matter what the intensity of the anger is.

For our purposes, we will assume that it is possible for anger to be present without any external manifestation that might be recognizable by another individual. This is not the usual case, but the effort here is to make a distinction between anger, as the feeling inside, and any behavior that is caused by that anger.

Let us then define hostile behavior, or hostility, as behavior that is motivated by anger and has as its goal causing pain in, discomfort in, or damage to the target of the anger.

Hostile behavior varies from species to species. In various animals, one might see growling, screeching, hissing, biting, kicking, baring of the teeth, lunging, fluffing up, staring, etc.

In humans, of course, hostile behavior can be very subtle, sophisticated, and disguised, and even outside conscious awareness. One human may be hostile to the other through the use of facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture, gestures, ridicule, laughter, mimicking, criticism, ignoring, refusing to speak, withholding information, withholding sex, shaming, making envious, making jealous, destroying the other's belongings, stealing from the other, spreading rumors, threatening, abandoning, etc.

But we humans also have extremely sophisticated ways of being hostile, that don't look like what we usually think of as being hostile. The example I give often is, "No, I'm not angry at you. I am just h-h-hurt that you would treat me this way!" Also, there is, "I love you so much-why are you doing this to me?" These are examples of behavior that is designed to make the other person feel guilty or ashamed, while denying that the behavior is hostile.

Becoming aware of one's own hostile behavior when it is occurring, that is, being able to identify it as such, is a crucial skill to be developed in order to be able to use the anger prevention paradigm effectively. For some individuals, developing this awareness will be the first significant hurdle to overcome in the attempt to learn and use the paradigm.

Now, natural selection has produced a set of phenomena that can be modeled as follows.

There is a basic or natural process that occurs between two animals, including humans, when anger arises in that relationship. (This process is a part of our basic animal nature.) In order to understand the process as clearly as possible, the reader is asked to imagine two animals in a clearing in the forest. Let us assume that, for whatever reason, anger arises in one of the animals toward the other. That anger will usually be manifested by hostile behavior directed toward the other animal. The other animal will respond to the hostility with anger (and perhaps other emotions, such as fear), and will therefore probably engage in hostile behavior back toward the first. This will in turn produce more anger in the first, and an escalation of hostile behavior. This reverberating and escalating process I refer to as a struggle for dominance, and its occurrence is determined by the basic animal nature that the higher animals, including humans, share. The most commonly used term for this phenomenon is "fight," which may refer to a physical interaction between the two animals or, in humans, to something that remains only verbal (with accompanying nonverbal communication short of the effort to hurt or damage physically), the use of the term "fight" in such a case being metaphorical.

Notice that I am not using "a struggle for dominance" to refer to a characteristic of a relationship in general. I am referring to a time-limited interaction between two (or more) individuals, in which the motivation is to "win," thus ending the struggle for dominance.

There are only four possible outcomes of a struggle for dominance, and for humans, they are all bad:

  • (1) one kills or disables the other;
  • (2) one chases the other away (that is, one runs away from the other);
  • (3) one submits to the other (engages in non-hostile behavior predicted to stop the hostile behavior of the other);
  • (4) they both leave the "battlefield."

The outcome may occur after a period of time during which the struggle takes place, or it may occur immediately, such that one sees no hostile behavior in one or both of the animals.

Also, the outcome may become chronic and automatic, such that one always runs away (avoids the other), one always submits to the other, or both always avoid each other or avoid the situation that might cause the anger to arise.

Now this model applies equally well to both human and other animal behavior.

For humans, the outcome in which one kills or disables the other (outcome #1) is so obviously a bad outcome that I am not going to elaborate on it. It happens relatively rarely, compared to all the times that anger does arise in humans.

For humans, one chasing the other away (outcome #2) may consist of something very obvious, such as someone running to a neighbor's house or an abuse shelter. However, there are other, more subtle forms of this outcome. Suppose someone is watching TV and the other comes in and says (in a hostile manner), "Are you just going to sit there and let me do all the work?" The first person says, "There you go again, giving me a hard time! I'm leaving!" He or she leaves the room, or even the house. Or perhaps he or she simply does not respond to what the other has just said and changes the subject or "tunes the other person out." The original issue is not worked on between the two or resolved. One "distances" (physically or psychologically) himself or herself from the other, at least with regard to the issue that was producing the anger in the other.

For humans, submission (outcome #3) is going along with the other (doing what the other wants), not because of agreement that what the other wants is indeed the right thing to do, but simply in order to avoid the painful hostility of the other. One says, "No, no! I'll do it! I'll do whatever you say, just to keep the peace!" or "You're right! You're right!" There also may be, of course, a subtle, hostile, "(You're always right!)."

For humans, when both leave the battlefield (outcome #4), they may go to separate parts of the house, or at least may not speak to each other for a period of time, or certainly do not speak to each other regarding the initial issue about which the anger arose.

For humans, none of these four outcomes is good. Anger and hostile behavior have characteristics that promote the survival of a species. But they do not provide for the good life. They involve much pain and suffering. And if they occur frequently enough, they ultimately lead to relationship breakdown.

Each struggle for dominance, even when there is no escalation (that is, even when one of the outcomes occurs right away), leaves an anger-containing memory in one or both individuals (not to mention possibly other individuals who know them). An anger-containing memory is one which, if remembered ("relived" in consciousness), will result in a reappearance of anger. ("Every time I think about what happened, I become angry all over again.")

A memory actually is not recorded in the same amount of detail with which the event was actually experienced, but is stored as a "general model" (or "skeleton") of the experience (usually indeed along with a few, more specific details). When "remembering" takes place, that is, when the memory of the experience is brought back into consciousness, the general model is activated and then "fleshed in" with details (probably memory fragments of various experiences) that seem likely to have been present originally (but actually may not have been). We know that this fleshing in process is not very accurate, and since two individuals witnessing the same event may later flesh in their general models differently, it is not unusual for them to disagree as to what actually happened.

Similar kinds of experiences will tend to be stored using the same general models, which thereby become stronger. Also, general models, if they are similar, may tend to merge with one another, and therefore, again, become stronger. (By stronger, I mean more easily activated or brought into consciousness, this increased tendency being due to repetitious use of those neuronal "pathways" in the brain.)

Memories tend to be stimulated or activated by current events that are similar in some respect to those general models. This is what is meant by being "reminded" of something that has happened. As more and more anger-containing memories are stored, the general models of them get stronger and increasingly prone, if stimulated, to produce anger themselves, even without details of specific past experiences entering consciousness. Now the individual will experience anger in certain kinds of situations, corresponding to those general models. In a sense, the anger from the past is added to whatever anger might (or might not) be appropriate for the current situation. Thus, the individual's responses of anger will be more intense than they would have been if there were no "reminding of the past."

And in fact, as the anger-containing memories build up, there is even an increasing tendency for the individual to mistakenly regard current ambiguous situations as repetitions of the past. Thus, the individual misperceives current situations in such a way as to produce anger when none would be expected in response to the situations themselves.

Let us refer to the tendency to react to current situations with this anger from the past as "chronic anger."

The presence of chronic anger in an individual thus leads to (1) more intense anger reactions and to (2) misperceptions of situations such as to produce anger responses when none would be expected given the actual nature of the situation.

So we are talking about struggles for dominance leaving anger-containing memories and thus causing chronic anger. Remembering the details of a struggle for dominance is not necessary in order to produce the anger. Any situation that begins to evoke an anger-containing general model is likely to produce some degree of anger. Thus, an individual might experience some degree of anger without actually understanding "where the anger is coming from" or "what the anger is about." And it is even possible for an individual to be unaware of the fact that indeed some anger is arising, because of a tendency to be unaware, in general, of anger within himself or herself. Nevertheless, the presence of this motivational state within the individual then can have an effect on decision-making and thus behavior. As these anger-containing memories build up with each new episode of the struggle for dominance, their effect becomes more intense and destructive. Chronic anger within an individual will often lead that individual and/or others to regard that individual as having a "bad temper," or as being "irritable," or as "over-reacting," or as "prone to make mountains out of molehills." Also, the more intense the anger responses are, the more inappropriate the individual's behavior may become. Major aggressive acts may occur, perhaps with much regret later, and at times even tragic results.

These anger-containing memories or general models, referred to in this book as "chronic anger," are the phenomena that ultimately destroy most relationships and produce most of our human-induced misery and suffering.

The build-up of chronic anger results in progressive inhibition of communication (staying off the "battlefield"), which in turn causes reduction in intimacy, consequent diminished gratification in the relationship, and an increased likelihood of ultimate relationship breakdown .

More and more, the individuals find that they cannot talk to each other about important matters, and they therefore increasingly become strangers to each other, even though they may actually continue to live with each other or be around each other. It is under these circumstances that one, the other, or both may happen to develop a relationship with someone else, in the relationship with whom there is no such chronic anger, and therefore no such inhibition of communication. The individual may comment to the other how wonderful it is that they have so much to talk about and that they understand each other so well, and he or she may remark that the relationship is so different from his or her primary relationship. With such intimacy usually comes affection, and even perhaps sexual attraction. The relationship feels so "right" that the couple ends the primary relationship, the individual(s) going off with the new person(s) to begin a new relationship. The same process may begin all over again in the new relationship, especially when the chronic anger from the previous relationship causes anger in the new relationship, even by error, as described above (this phenomenon currently being referred to as carrying "baggage" from the previous relationship into the current one).

It is not unusual for one or both of a couple that has just had a struggle for dominance to assume that because the issue that produced the episode is no longer discussed, and, perhaps with some effort on the part of one or both, is "forgotten," the episode has no lasting effect. "I/we just forget about our fights, and don't hold a grudge." This might be somewhat accurate if such episodes are mild and infrequent, and are counterbalanced by much gratifying interaction and affectionate behavior.

However, anger kills affection. It is very difficult to experience affection toward someone toward whom one has anger, and as the chronic anger builds up, one may notice mostly just a gradual disappearance of affection. In a couple with a sexual relationship, one may note a growing absence of sexual interest of one in the other, this being especially true the more true it is that, for that individual, sexual interest requires the experiencing of affection.

Although some of what has been discussed above obviously refers to pairs of individuals that have a sexual relationship, the process of the breakdown of the relationship can occur in any pair of individuals who have any kind of relationship. In the place of affection, we can substitute the idea of the wish to cooperate with the other. In a hierarchical relationship, chronic anger in the subordinate toward the superior will produce a wish to refrain from doing what the superior wants (a wish to rebel). Rebellion is, among other things, a hostile act toward the superior. And chronic anger in the superior toward the subordinate will produce a wish for retaliation, often conceptualized as "punishment."

And this same process, the escalating intensity of the struggles for dominance, can be seen operating at the level of groups and even nations. Anger-containing memories produce more anger and new hostile acts, growing ever more intense, such that greater and greater effort is put into devising ingenious methods of being hostile and even deadly.

The overall effect of this process (increasing frequency and intensity of struggles for dominance) is a marked deterioration in the quality of life of all concerned, irrespective of how it might be seen as a process in which individuals and groups are produced who are more able to survive. But it is we humans that have the capability of understanding what is happening and doing something that does not come naturally, doing something that works better, doing something that improves the quality of our lives while still promoting the survival of our species. And that is what this book is about.

Let us be clear about what is needed.

We have as a part of our basic animal nature the tendency under certain circumstances to develop the motivational state of anger. This motivational state tends to produce behavior that we have labeled "hostile behavior." We have seen that it is quite likely that such behavior is not consistent with the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle that we should do that which will promote the survival of and the good life for our species, meaning all of us, now and in the future. So what is needed is a set of ethical rules of conduct that motivate behavior that is different from that which is produced by our basic animal nature. In other words, there are anger-containing situations in which what we want to do because of the anger is not optimal, and we therefore need to have ethical rules of conduct that make us want to do something different, something that will work better, something that will lead to a better set of outcomes. What we want to do because of our anger must be countered by what we want to do because we believe we should (this belief producing the motivational state called the "ethical sense"), and what we believe we should must be accurate with regard to the predicted outcomes of so behaving. And of course what we want to do because we believe we should hopefully will be stronger than what we want to do because of our anger.

It should be noted that rational ethics is the ethics referred to in the last paragraph. Authoritarian ethics simply does not work. It is the ethics that has arisen in the service of our basic animal nature, and it actually fits hand-and-glove with the process of the escalating struggle for dominance, producing such concepts as obedience, loyalty, nationalism, bravery, strength, power, sacrifice, holy war, punishment, retribution, good versus evil, etc., all of which have been with us since the beginning, in one form or another.

So we are talking about any situation in which anger has arisen, or at least appears to have arisen. The anger either has arisen in oneself or appears to have arisen in another. The question is, "What ethical principles should guide the decisions I make in this situation?"

The situation is entirely analogous to the situation in which a person suddenly develops unresponsiveness. If another person present knows the rules of basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and follows those procedures, the outcome is more likely, though not guaranteed, to produce a better outcome than if someone does not know those procedures but nevertheless does the best he or she can, doing what comes naturally. Notice that what makes the difference is that the person who knows CPR is guided by principles that have been stated as such in words and has actually practiced the skills that are required to follow those verbalized principles. Notice also that those principles also are ethical rules of conduct. They are what a person should do in such circumstances.

So in the case of a situation in which anger has arisen in self or appears to have arisen in another, that is, an anger-containing situation, there should be a set of ethical rules of conduct, or principles to follow, that will optimize the chances for a good outcome. They should be stated in words, and practiced as such as a set of skills.

We do have CPR principles or rules, and they are taught and learned. But do we have anything similar for anger-containing situations? Certainly there are many, many approaches to such situations, written about and taught. But what is the official, basic list? Can a person be tested to see if he or she knows? The answer, I believe, is that there does not exist a list of such principles that is recognized world-wide. And when anger does arise, there are very, very few people that immediately think of a set of verbalized principles that they then try to follow, irrespective of what they otherwise feel like doing. There is nothing close to universal agreement. What instead usually occurs is some variant of the struggle for dominance, with one of the four bad outcomes, either immediately or after some degree of escalation, leaving more anger-containing memories to make things worse for the future.

What has made CPR so successful? Of course, part of the success is due to the fact that the rules work. The existential beliefs upon which the rules are based are accurate, meaning that they accurately allow one to predict a more successful outcome if followed. But if no one actually followed them, or was able to follow them, they still would not be successful. And why are people able to follow them? They are simple, clear, and few. The more complex and the more numerous the rules were, the more difficult it would be for individuals to follow them.

It is, then, easy to see that if there is to be a successful or useful set of anger prevention (or "anger management") procedures or principles, the set must consist of just a few such principles, and they must be as simple and clear as possible. Also, of course, they must work, meaning that the existential beliefs that they are based upon, having to do with how we humans react, must be accurate. Also, they must be taught and learned, and practiced. Optimally, they should be taught and learned during childhood, by parent figures that also model them for the child. No such situation exists today, though I maintain that such is possible, and will probably be actual at some time in the future (in the time of "Homo rationalis").

What I am going to do, then, is propose a set of principles and procedures that I believe can be and ultimately will be agreed upon and put into practice as a part of all of our lives. Why will there be such agreement? There will be such agreement because no one will be able to devise something better, because what is proposed will indeed work better than what comes naturally, and because what is proposed will be easily learned by everyone, not in a day or in a single reading, but over a period of time during which the principles are practiced and observations are made as to whether indeed they appear to lead to a better set of outcomes than not following them does. But just because I happen to believe that these principles are the best that ever will be found does not mean that this is so. If indeed someone can come up with a better set of principles, that actually work, that everyone can learn easily, then that set of principles should replace this one. What would be unfortunate, however, would be that we never even develop such an agreed-upon set of effective principles, if indeed such is possible.

What I am going to present is exactly that which, over the years, I have found extremely helpful in aiding couples to salvage their relationships that have broken down due to escalating, overt angry conflicts or to increasing silent alienation due to increasing anger over repetitious patterns of interaction that leave anger-containing memories.

In my presentation to a couple that I am working with, I ask them to imagine the following metaphorical scene. A couple is going down a road and anger arises in one of those individuals (imagine the person's head turning red). At that point the road forks. Going off to the left is the main road, namely, a struggle for dominance. However, going off to the right is a little path off into the woods, with a lot of fog, so that one can only see a little way down the path. This path is how I represent the alternative to the struggle for dominance. My current name for it is "problem-solving behavior." Thus, what I am saying is that when anger arises, that which comes naturally is a struggle for dominance, and it is almost always what is done, but that there is an alternative (problem-solving behavior), which has a different (better) set of outcomes, though it is almost never done. The depiction of problem-solving behavior as a path in the woods, as opposed to the main road, is to represent the fact that it is almost never done.

The reason that problem-solving behavior is almost never done is that hardly anyone knows how to do it. (This fact is depicted by the fog in the metaphor.) The reason for that is that problem-solving behavior does not come naturally, but has to be taught and learned. More specifically, the individual needs to learn certain principles that he or she can recite at any time, and he or she needs to practice the application of those principles, usually best done with the help of a trainer. Yet, these principles (of problem-solving behavior) are not generally known and therefore not generally taught. In fact, our cultures in many ways support that which comes naturally, and therefore support the opposite of problem-solving behavior, as will be described later.

But our cultures also support the opposite kinds of behavior, with goals of affection, cooperation, and harmony. Just as our religions have promoted the most awful treatment of humans, so have they also promoted our most benevolent behavior and what we consider to be our finest aspirations toward peaceful and caring interaction. So we have both tendencies as a part of our basic animal nature, and both tendencies are reflected in aspects of our cultures, that, in turn, support those tendencies. In the time of "Homo rationalis," I believe, they will have eliminated to a great extent the support of struggles for dominance, and will be living according to well-understood ethical principles designed to keep anger at a minimum. And it is this set of principles that I am attempting to identify and advocate.

Although there are no such generally recognized and accepted principles to be found in our society, it is my prediction that the principles I am writing about will make complete sense to the reader. I believe that this fact reflects the fact that we have already begun to shift from authoritarian ethics to rational ethics, that is, to engage in rational-ethical living. Although we are just beginning, the fact that we are indeed beginning is what makes the following seem right, even though, for the most part, we do not use it yet.

By principles, of course, I am referring to ethical principles, general rules of conduct, to be used in anger-containing situations. These principles will be used in order to accomplish something, namely, a good outcome to an anger-containing situation, that is, a situation in which anger has arisen in the individual or in which anger has apparently arisen in someone else toward the individual.

Now the most important ethical principle is that the individual should have a way of conceptualizing such a situation such that he or she can use some more specific principles to guide his or her behavior in the optimal direction. In other words, the individual should understand the situation in such a way that he or she knows what he or she is trying to accomplish (in general) and knows what will optimize his or her chances of accomplishing it.

So first we are going to develop that set of concepts. We have already covered what naturally happens, based upon our basic animal nature, namely, hostile behavior, a struggle for dominance, and one of the four bad outcomes (possibly even occurring immediately), leading to more anger-containing memories, which ultimately lead to relationship breakdown. We have also stated that there is an alternative to this main road (that goes off to the left), namely, problem-solving behavior, represented by a little path going off to the right, into the woods, with lots of fog. We are now going to learn what this path is (dispel the fog), and how to begin taking it, more and more, until the path perhaps does become the main road, and the previous main road becomes, through disuse, just a path.

Notice that the phrase "problem-solving behavior" has been used for many purposes by many individuals already. My effort is not to restrict the use of this phrase in other settings. But it is important to recognize that I am using this phrase, in this book, to mean something very specific, having to do only with the handling of anger-containing situations.

In order to engage in this alternative to a struggle for dominance, one must know what one is trying to accomplish and how to go about accomplishing it. (Neither aimless skilled behavior or purposeful unskilled behavior is likely to yield optimal results.) The general organization of my presentation will be as follows:

Problem-solving behavior (the alternative to the struggle for dominance, described above)

What one is trying to accomplish

The solving of the problem (identifying the problem-type)

The resolution (depending upon the problem-type)

The outcome (no matter which of the problem-types)

How one goes about trying to accomplish it

The most important principle of problem-solving behavior

The next most important principle of problem-solving behavior


Let us be very clear about what an anger-containing situation is. We are going to be looking at the simplest case, for the time being, namely, the situation in which anger has arisen in the relationship between two peers. We are making the assumption that at a specific point in time, anger arises in one of those individuals toward the other. For simplicity, let us name the two individuals "A" and "B." So, at some specific point in time, A develops anger toward B.

Note that there may already be chronic anger in the relationship. But what we are addressing is the situation in which all of a sudden there is "new anger," or a definite increase in anger, in A toward B. We may say that at that point something has just happened that has caused that anger in A toward B. Whatever it is that has just happened is the problem that has caused the anger to arise in A toward B.

It is very important to recognize that what we are talking about when using the phrase "problem-solving behavior" is the solving of this problem that has caused A suddenly to develop anger toward B. The reason that this recognition is so important is that there is a natural tendency to lose track of the importance of solving this problem because of a shift of attention away from it. To be more specific, I want to clarify that as soon as this anger arises in A, it is not unusual for A to act in a hostile manner toward B. As we have already covered, B is then likely to respond with anger toward A, and therefore likely to act in a hostile manner toward A, and A then is likely to respond with even more anger toward B. But the anger in B and the increase in anger in A are not the situations that we are looking at. We are looking at the situation in which, at a specific point in time, A first develops anger toward B (or develops a sudden increase in anger toward B).

Whenever anger arises in a relationship, there is a problem to be solved, that is, the problem that has produced the anger. I will maintain that what is optimal for a relationship is that whenever anger arises, the problem producing the anger should be solved. This goal is something to be striven for. We will always fall short of it, probably, but I maintain that the more we strive for it, the closer we will get to an optimal relationship. I am therefore taking a stand that is the opposite of that which many would take. Many would say that small anger-producing problems should be overlooked. I believe the reason for the difference in viewpoint is that many conceptualize the only alternative to overlooking the problem as being a struggle for dominance, which of course admittedly is not likely to be beneficial.

So now we need to have a way of conceptualizing, or understanding, this problem. In fact, in what is to follow, this understanding represents what is being called the solving of the problem. But remember that there are often more than one way to understand something. The metaphor I have used for this fact is that of the slicing of the orange in different ways in order to understand what the inside is like. My way of helping people to understand the cause of the anger has worked well in helping couples solve their anger-producing problems. It certainly is not the only way, but it is the best that I have been able to come up with.

If A suddenly develops anger toward B, there are six possible reasons:

  • (1) B has been mean to A.
  • (2) B has not been mean to A, but A thinks so.
  • (3) B has failed to live up to A's appropriate expectation.
  • (4) B has not failed to live up to A's appropriate expectation, but A thinks so.
  • (5) B has failed to live up to A's inappropriate expectation.
  • (6) B has not failed to live up to A's inappropriate expectation, but A thinks so.

To summarize, if A develops anger toward B, then the possibilities are that B has been mean to A or has not lived up to A's appropriate or inappropriate expectation, or that A mistakenly thinks one of these possibilities is so.

It has been my experience in helping couples that every experience of anger can be traced to one of these six possible explanations.

But we must look at the meanings of the words in bold type.

What does it mean for a person to be "mean" to another? Let us assume for our purposes that this will refer to a person deliberately (though not necessarily consciously) trying to cause pain, discomfort, or damage to the target (usually a person). Now this is similar to our definition of hostile behavior, where this behavior is motivated by anger. And in fact being mean is indeed motivated by anger. So being mean is, according to our definitions, hostile behavior.

However, anger that suddenly arises in a person (or other animal) is generally caused by something that has just happened (or was thought to have happened). What is usually meant by being mean is engaging in hostile behavior that is not a response to something that the other has just done. It generally reflects chronic anger, that is, the existence of anger-containing memories, either involving the target of the mean behavior or of some more general set of individuals of which the target appears to be a specific example (whether accurately perceived as such or not).

Now obviously there is no clear dividing line between hostile behavior that is mean behavior and hostile behavior that is not. If the hostile behavior is in response to what the other has just done, this would be an example of a part of a struggle for dominance. But how much of a delay would be necessary in order to call the hostility an act of meanness? There obviously can be no clear answer. Acts of revenge may be seen as mean behavior, though there is a tendency not to use the word "mean" to describe an immediate act of revenge; instead, such behavior is often labeled as "retaliation." There is, however, a tendency to regard hostile behavior as "mean" if it does not appear to be "justified." Nevertheless, when one person acts "mean" toward another, there is presumably chronic anger present in the person who so acts.

So for our purposes, let us consider mean behavior to be hostile behavior (probably reflecting chronic anger) that is not a response to something that has just happened that has stimulated anger. We will recognize, however, that the boundaries of this definition are very vague.

Next, we need to consider the word "expectation."

We must immediately recognize that there are two common meanings of this word that are very different. These two meanings are exemplified in the sentence, "I expect you to do your part, but, knowing you, I expect that you won't." The second use of the word has the same meaning as "predict."

But what is the meaning implied in the first use of the word (which is the use that we are considering)?

Now we are saying that if A expects B to do something and B does not do it, there is a tendency for A to experience anger toward B. But why does A expect B to do something in the first place? And what does it mean for A to expect B to do something?

It is here that we may extend our understanding of the difference between authoritarian ethics and rational ethics.

If an animal is trying to do something and is prevented from doing it, the situation is referred to as "frustration." The animal's wishes or efforts are frustrated. There is a natural tendency for frustration to produce anger, and therefore hostile behavior. (In fact, "frustration" is often used as an euphemism for anger.)

Before the small child becomes partially civilized, any frustration of its wishes will tend to produce anger. Even a state of hunger may produce crying that appears to have a component of anger, as evidenced from the appearance of the child.

Using our modeling with propositions, we may conceptualize the child as having a wish, "I want you to do X (e.g., feed me, give me that, etc.). To reduce this proposition to beliefs and motivational states, we would model with the statements, "I want to do that which will cause you to do X (e.g., feed me)," "If I do Y (e.g., ask, beg, cry, etc.), you will do X," "Therefore, I want to do Y" (and do). The prediction is made that you will do X. When what one wants to happen (and predicts will happen as an outcome of one's own behavior) does not happen, the situation is one of frustration, and anger may be produced.

(This anger is seen not just toward members of one's own species; for instance, such anger appears when pets don't obey. Sometimes anger appears when even inanimate objects do not comply with one's wishes. This phenomenon is probably related to "animism," the tendency of the child to regard inanimate objects as having a mind of their own. Animism is a characteristic of thought that probably does not disappear completely with age, even though it is not rational, that is, not consistent with beliefs obtained through use of the rules of logic and rules of evidence.)

So when one acts in response to a motivational state, and the act does not result in the sought-after outcome, the situation is labeled "frustration," and the response is often the appearance of an additional motivational state, namely, anger. This is observable in other animals, and is therefore a part of our basic animal nature.

But there is a set of phenomena that is superimposed upon this scenario as we humans become civilized through the process of child rearing and life experience in general. These phenomena may all be subsumed under the concept of "fairness."

Fairness is a set of rules of conduct, and therefore modeled by ethical propositions, that have been devised by humans in order to have a better quality of life than that which is produced by repetitive struggles for dominance. As such, the development of it was perhaps the beginning, or one of the beginnings, of what ultimately may become rational-ethical living on the part of our species.

The basic situation to which fairness applies is the one in which two (or more) individuals have conflicting wishes (wants), such that if one individual's wish is fulfilled, the other individual's wish cannot be. In this situation, the individual whose wish is not fulfilled is likely to experience anger toward the other individual, who is seen as frustrating the first. And prior to the outcome, both see each other as being in the process of frustrating the self, and therefore both are likely to be experiencing anger toward the other. It is natural for such anger to produce hostile behavior and thus a struggle for dominance. Fairness is the method devised to prevent anger due to frustration.

So what are the characteristics of fairness, and how do they lead to anger prevention?

In order to gain as full an understanding as possible, we need to take a look in a very basic manner at group decision-making. Actually, for our purposes, we need only to look at the two-person group. In other words, a decision has to be made by this group of two (or more) individuals. There has to be agreement as to what is to be done (and by whom). If the two (or more) individuals want to do the same thing, or want the same decision, there is generally no problem that might produce anger. But the simplest problematic situation is as follows:

  • A wants to do X.
  • B wants to do Y.
  • Either X or Y must be done; if X is done, Y cannot be, and if Y is done, X cannot be.

Now there are two basic ways in which this situation is dealt with, prior to the consideration of fairness, depending on the nature of the relationship. That is, there are two kinds of relationships to consider, namely, the relationship characterized by affection and intimacy and the relationship not so characterized. Decision-making is entirely different in these two cases. (These two cases, of course, are idealized extremes. It is not unusual for a specific relationship to fall somewhere between these two extremes, and to move back and forth on this continuum. But temporarily conceptualizing the matter in this idealized, dichotomized way will help us to understand the processes involved.)

First, there is the relationship that is characterized by affection and intimacy. Examples of this are certain family relationships and relationships that have just begun (as in "courtship"). In these relationships, there is a wish on the part of both A and B to please the other.

Now, A wants to do X and B wants to do Y. A knows how important it is to A to do X. B knows how important it is to B to do Y. But initially neither A nor B know how important it is to the other that what the other wants to do is done (how strong the other's wish, motivational state, is). Therefore, A and B engage in behaviors, such as asking of questions, designed to acquire this information. Finally, both understand how important each individual's wish is to that individual. Now, having this knowledge, both agree that the optimal decision is to do that which is wished by the one to whom it is most important. If it is more important to A that X be done than it is to B that Y be done, then they both agree that X should be done. The principle is that both benefit if there is the most satisfaction in the relationship, and to make the decision in this manner is the way to have the most satisfaction. This satisfaction also arises partly because of the additional satisfaction that comes from seeing the other pleased (the same pleasure that arises from the giving of a gift) and from the knowledge on the part of the individual whose wish is not chosen that he or she is making the world a better place for this other person that he or she cares about.

Obviously, this is a very simple and "pure" case. There are times when both X and Y can be done, but the order in which they are done may be the important decision. And there are times when there is a third option that will provide even more satisfaction, or more equal satisfaction (as in "compromise"). But what I am referring to is the basic attitude that the individuals have toward the decision-making process. Both wish for the maximum gratification of both as a group, even if this means one will not be gratified, except for the gratification involved in pleasing the other.

We might label this first method of decision-making "generosity."

Second, there is the relationship that is not characterized by affection and intimacy. Perhaps this kind of relationship is the one that predominates. In fact, most relationships that were originally of the first kind ultimately become this kind, especially with repeated struggles for dominance and the build-up of anger-containing memories ("chronic anger") in the relationship, as already described.

In these relationships, the decision-making process is entirely different. It can be modeled best by the "tug-of-war," in which the primary concern of the individuals is not the gratification of both, with the wish to please the other, but instead the concern that oneself not be "taken advantage of," that one not "lose out" to the other, that one "stand up for" himself or herself, that one at least come out equally well as, if not better off than, the other. Under these circumstances, it is not at all unusual for one to view the other as attempting to frustrate the wishes of oneself, and anger is produced, with accompanying hostile behavior designed to produce submission in the other. And the problem with this scenario is that the ensuing struggle for dominance, even if it leads to a particular decision, has the bad outcome of leaving anger-containing memories and an increase in chronic anger in the relationship. So this second way of making such decisions produces chronic anger and fosters ultimate breakdown in relationships.

Let us refer to this second method of decision-making as "conflict."

It is because of this second scenario that humans have devised a third method, using a particular tool, called "fairness."

The basic ingredient of fairness is that, by agreement, the decision is taken out of the hands, so to speak, of the concerned individuals.

In other words, the two individuals do not have to tug on the rope, because it won't do any good. The decision will be made independently of the efforts of each to overcome the efforts of the other.

The method of accomplishing the removal of the decision-making from the individuals is to devise a rule, or set of rules, of conduct for the individuals that is independent of knowledge as to the results for the specific individuals.

For instance, the rule could be that the choice of the individual whose wish will be granted will be made by connection to a random event, such as the flipping of a coin. The individuals simply have to wait and see what the result will be. They cannot influence the result.

In the same way, individuals "taking turns" are presented with a decision made for them by the circumstances (at least beyond the first event, which itself can be determined by the tossing of the coin, if wished).

Having the decision made by group vote (of course not possible in a two-person group) still leaves the possibility of anger, hostile behavior, and various kinds of "unfairness" prior to the vote. This fact is dealt with by the limiting of the behaviors allowed by the individuals prior to the vote. If all individuals are allowed the same opportunity to influence the vote, even though skill might help an individual to do so, then the procedure is regarded as fair, because it involves acceptable limits of the influencing behavior, stopping the behavior from escalating indefinitely into the struggle for dominance. And ultimately the decision is not made by one of the participants; it is made by a procedure, agreed upon in advance by all.

Another example of the effort to be fair is that of turning the decision over to another individual or other individuals. Examples of this are the turning of a decision over to a judge, a jury, a mediator, a parent, a leader, etc. Of course there still is the possibility of unfairness, as for instance, when an individual has undue (unfair) influence over the one(s) making the decision. So again there usually needs to be a set of additional procedures designed to reduce the likelihood of this unfairness.

Another example of fairness is that individuals might agree that decisions within a certain domain of decision-making should be made by that individual or those individuals who had demonstrated the greatest amount of knowledge and skill within the relevant domain of knowledge and skills, because the decisions would be likely to have the most beneficial effect on everyone to the extent that the decisions were most wisely made.

And finally there are all of the examples of two (or more) individuals deciding in advance how a decision will be made, prior to knowing exactly how important the outcome will be to the individuals if and when the decision has to be acted on. The basic idea is that of the contract. In the simplest case, two individuals agree that in the future, if a decision has to be made, it will be made in a particular way. The agreed-upon method of making the decision takes it out of the hands of the individuals at the later point in time. The decision is in a sense pre-determined. An example might be the marriage contract, which specifies how possessions will be divided up should the marriage be dissolved. (Needless to say, the marriage contract as currently done is not a very good contract, because there is often the necessity, at the time of separation and divorce, to turn the decision-making over to attorneys and the court. But still the principle is the same, namely, that the making of the potential decision in advance, at the time of the initiation of the contract, takes the decision out of the hands of the individuals at the time the decision is actually implemented.)

The general effect of agreement on procedures according to principles of fairness is that anger produced by frustration of wishes is reduced and perhaps even essentially eliminated. In a sense, this absence of anger toward the other is due to the belief that the decision is not being made by the other, that what is happening is not by virtue of the behavior of the other, but, instead, by virtue of an earlier decision that was not made (exclusively) by this other.

The decision-making is usually considered "fair" when the agreed-upon procedure is carried out. When an individual deviates from this agreed-upon procedure, his or her behavior is often labeled "cheating." Anger is produced when someone is regarded as cheating, because regarding the person as cheating means believing that the person is frustrating one's own wishes in the context of there being nothing that makes this frustration okay. Decision-making that is frustrating is indeed now being engaged in by the other.

In summary, in the situation in which there are incompatible wishes, decisions may be made by generosity, conflict, or fairness.

It should also be noted that even though it is easy to think of fairness as a rational-ethical phenomenon, one that is developed and maintained by everyone's agreement that it fosters the good life for everyone, etc., the phenomenon actually undoubtedly arose in the context of authoritarian ethics, that is, arose as a method devised by the leader or group and imposed on the individuals or members of the group, because of the wish of the leader or group to have less conflict to deal with. The parent may, if for no other reason than to obtain a little peace and quiet, instruct and command his or her children to take turns, and the children are likely to do so out of obedience rather than an agreement that doing so fosters the good life for everyone. And to a great extent, currently most individuals would probably be fair more out of obedience than out of wisdom. At the current time in the development of our species, fairness, including adherence to agreed-upon laws and rules, often requires threat of punishment for its maintenance, this being a manifestation of authoritarian ethics rather than rational ethics, as the terms are used in this book. I am maintaining that at some time in the future, rational ethics will be followed and taught in the process of child rearing, such that it will become the basis for life for our species, and that threat of punishment will become far less of a factor in decision-making. We are far, far from this state currently, however. (And that is what this book is about.)

Now we can get back to the original problem, namely, what it means for A to expect something of B.

Throughout life, individuals are always making agreements with each other to do things in certain ways that are considered fair. There are some agreements that are already generally held, as an understanding within the society or culture, such as that one will do what one has said one will do, unless there is a good reason not to. There are also more specific agreements that are worked out between individuals, such as who will do what (e.g., in a household). But in all cases the adherence to these agreements results in an increase in the ability of individuals to predict the behavior of others. Also, the prediction is that the behavior of the other will be "okay," that is, consistent with what has been agreed upon, and therefore fair. As long as that is true, the behavior is seen as already determined by the procedure of following, or adhering to, the agreement, and there is the belief that one does not have to engage in a struggle for dominance in order to bring the behavior about. When someone deviates from the procedure (does not live up to the overt or implied agreement), then the situation changes to one that is best modeled by the tug-of-war, with its propensity toward the production of anger and another episode of struggle for dominance.

Expectation, then, is belief that the other should behave according to an overt or implied agreement. Doing so is regarded as being "fair." The belief, as noted, generates motivational states in certain situations, such as when the other does not do as expected, in which case the motivational state most likely to occur is anger. Thus, A will probably develop anger toward B if B fails to live up to A's expectation.

The reader may recall from what has been written above that if A develops anger toward B, then the possibilities are that B has been mean to A or has not lived up to A's appropriate or inappropriate expectation, or that A mistakenly thinks one of these possibilities is so.

So now we must discuss what is meant by an "appropriate" and an "inappropriate" expectation.

We said that an expectation (in our current context) was an ethical belief about what another should do. (Of course, we can have expectations of ourselves, also, and they, too, may be appropriate or inappropriate.) In the chapter on "Basic Concepts: Ethics," we talked about how an ethical belief was essentially the same as an existential belief, in that, assuming agreement as to the ultimate ethical principle according to which ethical beliefs would be legitimated, an ethical belief could be correct or incorrect, or accurate or inaccurate, depending on whether it was consistent with the ultimate ethical principle (or with other principles and rules derivable from that principle). This being true, we should be able to ask whether A's expectation of B is accurate or not. This means whether or not it is indeed fair that B do what A expects B to do. And if it is fair, then the expectation is appropriate.

Now of course just because, in principle, an ethical belief may be accurate or not does not mean that it will always be easy to determine this. But consider, instead of ethical beliefs, existential beliefs. There are many times when determining the accuracy of existential beliefs is also difficult or impossible. Nevertheless, this does not mean that doing so for all existential beliefs is impossible, nor does it mean that there is no value in attempting to do so. The same is true for ethical beliefs, and for expectations in particular. In other words, if A expects B to do something (or not to do something), it may be very worthwhile to attempt to see whether this expectation is appropriate, that is, whether indeed B should do (or not do) this something.

Now what would be the methods of doing so? The usual, simplest method would be to demonstrate that for B to do so would be an example of following an ethical rule that B (or whoever needed convincing ) agreed applied to the situation and was an appropriate rule.

But we also remember that an ethical rule of conduct is really just an "alarm" that goes off if a person is contemplating doing something that may have a bad outcome. The circumstances may actually be such that the best outcome will occur if the person does not follow the rule of conduct. The rule of conduct is designed only to make sure the appropriate thinking occurs, such as to optimize the chances for a good outcome. So in the case of individuals attempting to determine whether an expectation is appropriate or not, the ultimate test is the effort to predict the outcomes of adhering to the expectation versus some alternative.

For instance, after A and B have discussed what B has done and B's reasons for doing so, A may say something such as, "Well, now I understand why you didn't do it. If you had done as I expected, something very undesirable would have happened. In this case, my expectation really was not appropriate."

But it is important to remember that by "outcome" we are talking about the total set of outcomes. This set will even include how each individual ends up feeling about the other and about himself or herself. It will also include what tendencies will be fostered in himself or herself, that is, what kind of person he or she is becoming by virtue of engaging in a particular behavior. (The more times we do something that is not optimal, the easier it becomes to do it, and the harder it becomes not to do it.) So in coming to a conclusion as to whether a person should have adhered to a particular ethical rule of conduct, factors such as these may be included in the thinking (and possibly the discussion).

Let us look at what might be some examples of appropriate expectations:

  • A expects B to do what B has said he or she would do, unless there was a good reason not to.
  • A expects B to do his or her share of the work.
  • A expects B to tell the truth.
  • A expects B to care what happens to A.

Now let us look at what might be some examples of inappropriate expectations:

  • A expects B to know what A wants without A telling B.
  • A expects B to do as B said he or she would, despite terrible consequences.
  • A expects B to disregard B's needs totally and to consider A's needs only.
  • A expects B to have no emotional reaction to being mistreated.
  • A expects B not to have a normal sexual drive.

Now let us review where we are in this overall paradigm.

In the simplest case of a two-person, peer relationship, if anger arises in one toward the other, there is some cause for this. We are calling the cause the "problem."

When anger arises, the natural tendency is not the solving of the problem, but instead a struggle for dominance, with one of the four bad outcomes, bad because of the residual anger-containing memory that adds to the store of such memories and increases the likelihood of even more intense anger in subsequent situations that are reminiscent of the store of anger-containing memories, and also increases the likelihood of mistakenly thinking that a current situation is a replay of the past, thus causing anger when none would be expected in response to the actual situation. This increasing tendency toward chronic anger and struggles for dominance leads to increasing alienation and ultimate breakdown of the relationship.

But there is an alternative to the struggle for dominance, one that is not natural and requires being taught principles to follow that guide the person to do that which is optimal, that is, that which will be most likely to produce the best outcome. That alternative is problem-solving behavior, the solving of the problem that caused the original anger (as opposed to the additional anger that may be caused by the hostile behavior involved in the struggle for dominance). We have not yet covered how to engage in problem-solving behavior, but we have looked at what solving the problem consists of, namely, the two individuals coming to an agreement as to which of six problem types the problem falls under. If A has developed anger toward B, then B has been mean to A, or B has not lived up to A's appropriate expectation, or B has not lived up to A's inappropriate expectation, or it is not one of the above but A thinks so (has made a mistake).

Remember, the solving of the problem consists of the agreement of the two as to the problem type, but problem-solving behavior is only what oneself does; it is not what the other does or what the two do together. (This admonition will become clearer when we talk about the principles of problem-solving behavior.) Of course, the odds of a good outcome are indeed improved if each of the two individuals knows and utilizes the principles of problem-solving behavior.

But before we come to how one engages in problem-solving behavior, we need to look at what constitutes the optimal resolution. We are assuming that both have come to an agreement as to which of the six problem types the problem was. Then, something should be done to resolve the situation. By resolve, I mean bring it to rest, to a conclusion that both feel satisfied with. But what needs to be done depends upon the problem type. Therefore, we need to look at the optimal resolution for each of the six problem types.

If B has been mean to A, then B will say to A (not necessarily in these words, but in such a way as to convey the following content), "I understand your anger. I should not have done what I did. And if I have a tendency to do this sort of thing, I want to stop doing it, so if it seems to you like I am doing this again, please call it to my attention so that I can work more effectively on stopping doing it."

If B has not been mean to A but A (mistakenly) has thought so, then A will say to B, "I no longer have any anger toward you. I realize that I made a mistake. And if I have a tendency to make this kind of mistake, I want to stop doing so. So if it seems like I am making this kind of mistake in the future, please call it to my attention so that I can work more effectively on stopping doing so."

If B has failed to live up to A's appropriate expectation, then B will say to A, "I understand your anger. I should have done what you expected. And I am going to try to live up to that expectation from now on, so if it seems like I'm not doing so, please call it to my attention so that I can work more effectively on doing so."

If B has failed to live up to A's inappropriate expectation, then A will say to B, "I no longer have any anger toward you. I realize now that what I was expecting of you was not really appropriate. And if I have a tendency to have that expectation of you, I want to stop doing so. So if it seems like I am expecting that of you in the future, please call it to my attention so I can work more effectively on stopping doing so."

If B has lived up to A's appropriate expectation but A (mistakenly) has thought not, then A will say to B, "I no longer have any anger toward you. I realize now that I made a mistake, and that you did do as I expected. And if I have a tendency to make this kind of mistake, I want to stop doing so. So if it seems like I'm making this mistake in the future, please call it to my attention so that I can work more effectively on stopping doing so."

If B has lived up to A's inappropriate expectation but A (mistakenly) has thought not, then A will say to B, "I no longer have any anger toward you. I realize that I made a mistake. And if I have a tendency to make this kind of mistake, I want to stop doing so. So if it seems like I am making this kind of mistake in the future, please call it to my attention so that I can work more effectively on stopping doing so. But also, I realize my expectation was inappropriate. I am going to try to avoid expecting that of you in the future, so if it seems like I am doing so, please call it to my attention so that I can work more effectively on stopping doing so."

Note that there are four basic ingredients. There is the declaration of no remaining anger in the self toward the other ("I no longer have any anger toward you" or "I understand your anger toward me"). There is the acknowledgment that the one made a mistake ("I should not have done what I did," or "I should have done what you expected," or "I should not have expected that of you," or "I mistakenly thought something that was not so," etc.). There is the intention to try not to make the mistake again. And there is the request for feedback to help bring about any necessary change to eliminate the tendency to make the mistake again.

The reader might note how rare it is for a complete resolution to take place. That is one reason why I designate problem-solving behavior as a path leading off into the woods with a lot of fog. Very few take that path, or even know how.

But with this successful solving of the problem, and then with the appropriate resolution, there is a set of outcomes that are expectable:

  • (1) Each individual will understand the other better.
  • (2) Each individual will feel better understood by the other.
  • (3) They will devise new procedure within the relationship designed to reduce the likelihood of the problem occurring again.
  • (4) And they will both feel good about the procedure. (In other words, neither will feel that he or she is submitting, even if he or she is making a sacrifice.)
  • (5) Because they have built something together (the new procedure), they will experience increased affection for each other (this generally happening when individuals work together on a positive project).
  • (6) And because they both feel that they are doing the right thing, they will feel better about themselves, even if one believes that he or she is making a "sacrifice." (The most important source of self-esteem is the belief that one is doing what one believes to be the right thing to do.)

The reader should note the above reference to "procedure."

Such procedure may be quite complex, such as that it will be one's responsibility to do something on certain days of the week, unless certain unusual circumstances arise that would either lead to the something not being done or to it being done by the other, etc. Or such procedure may simply be, for instance, that if the individual feels that way again, he or she will let the other know (by perhaps using certain words or gestures).

The development of a relationship might be said to be primarily the development of procedure. Procedure refers to the rules that guide behavior (decision-making), depending upon the situation. These rules may never have been stated in words, but there is at least the possibility of doing so. The rules allow one to predict what will be done, if one knows the situation. So, when two (or more) individuals develop new procedure in the relationship, their behavior becomes predictable to each other, and they have entered into an agreement that the predicted behavior is the right thing to do (at least as understood between or among those individuals). So, if someone deviates from (agreed-upon) procedure, that individual will be likely to fail to live up to the expectation of the other(s), with resulting anger. But the existence of the agreed-upon procedure acts to prevent anger from occurring, and usually (but not always) such procedure makes for greater efficiency and a better quality of life within the relationship.

Of course, procedure may be faulty, or have "bugs" in it that need to be worked on as time goes on. This ongoing refinement of agreed-upon procedure is the very heart of the building of a relationship.

And when new procedure is developed, it will represent new behavior that has yet to be practiced. There will be the likelihood that mistakes will be made and doing things the old way will occur at times. It can be an inappropriate expectation of the other to expect the other to be perfectly adherent to new procedure from then on, so the recognition on the part of both that one may at times, especially at first, forget and do things the old way, combined with the agreement that reminding each other when such forgetting occurs is appropriate, will be the maintenance of and adherence to appropriate expectations of each other and therefore the enhancement of the quality of life in that relationship, an example of optimal living.

Much procedure within relationships develops in a very informal manner (not explicitly stated in words). As the relationship develops, it comes to pass that one of the individuals (A) always does certain things while the other (B) always does certain other things. But then it sometimes happens that anger develops in A by virtue of A coming to expect B to do one of these things simply because it is there to be done and because B presumably has time to do it. B doesn't do it because he or she predicts automatically that A will do it (according to usual procedure). This anger would result, then, from A's inappropriate expectation that B do it without receiving a request to do so. Under these circumstances, after problem-solving behavior had taken place and the problem was determined to be A's inappropriate expectation, the two of them might indeed revise the procedure such that they would take turns doing the something, or such that B would indeed do the something in certain situations, etc. This new procedure would, then, reduce the likelihood of anger arising again in the future. The relationship would now be enhanced, or more optimal.

Notice that the outcomes of repetitive struggles for dominance and of repetitive successful use of problem solving-behavior are opposite. Repetitive struggles for dominance lead to increasing anger and alienation (defined as decreasing understanding of each other due to reduced communication) within the relationship. Repetitive successful use of problem-solving behavior leads to increasing affection and intimacy (defined as increasing understanding of each other through self-disclosure).

I want to return to the above description of complete resolution (following agreement regarding the nature of the problem). The reader might be tempted to put a shorthand label on the concept of resolution, namely, "apology." The term "apology" is not used within the paradigm I am offering, for two reasons.

In the first place, the meaning of "apology" is very ambiguous. For instance, each of the following examples might be labeled an "apology," but they are quite different responses.

  • (1) "I'm sorry that I did what I did."
  • (2) "I'm sorry that I upset you."
  • (3) "I'm sorry if I upset you."
  • (4) "I'm sorry if I did something wrong."
  • (5) "I'm sorry if you are upset."
  • (6) "I'm sorry that all this had to happen."
  • (7) "I apologize."
  • (8) "I'm SOR-ry!" (said hostilely)
  • (9) "I'm sorry that you feel that way."

In the second place, apology tends to substitute for the actual solving of the problem. It tends to be ritual submission, to reduce the anger in the other person. It is presumed somewhat "unfair" to continue to be hostile to someone who has already apologized (submitted), since this would be like kicking someone when he or she is down.

Apology is sometimes used as evidence for "regret." Whether or not a person truly regrets having made the mistake involved in one of the six problem types can certainly be conveyed by the sincerity of tone and even an overt statement to that effect. However, it is important, insofar as possible, to have a complete resolution, and the simple communication of regret, especially when what the regret is about is ambiguous, is far from a complete resolution.

So now we have seen what one is trying to accomplish with problem-solving behavior.

Now it is time to review the principles of problem-solving behavior, that is, how to do it.

Let us recall our metaphor of two individuals going down a road, when all of a sudden one of the individuals develops anger toward the other. We might visualize the head of one of them turning red. At that point, the natural tendency is for that individual to initiate a struggle for dominance by engaging in hostile behavior toward the other, thus taking the main road off to the left with one of its four bad outcomes, leaving an anger-containing memory and bringing them closer to the breakdown of the relationship. But it is possible for either one of the two individuals, and even possibly both, to do something that does not come naturally, taking the little path off into the woods, the path that leads to solving the problem that caused the anger, the resolution of the problem, the development of new procedure, and thereby a strengthening of the relationship. This behavior is fostered not by the anger, but by the ethical sense that accompanies the ethical beliefs that constitute the principles of problem-solving behavior, the rules of conduct that are more likely to lead to the better outcome and thus are more optimal.

These principles (of problem-solving behavior) must be few, simple, and clear.

I will present these principles to the reader for his or her consideration. They are arranged in the order of importance, as I have come to see them in my work with couples, families, etc. Although they are few, simple, and clear, they do not come naturally and they have to be practiced and developed as a set of skills. They should be taught by the culture through child rearing, education, and general modeling for identification, but although they are not missing from what we do, they are lost in a mixture with what comes naturally in such a way that they are not immediately obvious. And because they are mixed in with what comes naturally, they seldom are able to make the difference and lead to the positive kind of outcome described above.

I remind the reader that these principles are what the reader follows, not what the reader requires the other person to follow. They are not what a couple does; they are what the self does.

The first principle, the most important one, by itself does not accomplish anything and probably would constitute only submission, one of the four bad outcomes of the struggle for dominance. But it makes it possible to carry out the rest of the principles. To ignore it is to drastically reduce the odds of having a successful outcome. This principle is that one should not be hostile, even if one is experiencing anger.

We humans have elaborated upon our basic animal nature, creatively learning an almost infinite repertoire of hostile behaviors, often so subtle that we are not aware that we are engaging in them while doing so. They include subtle facial expressions and body postures, sophisticated speech and language patterns, and complicated behaviors out of the sight of the person toward whom the anger is directed. But they also include obvious, overt acts of cruelty and destructiveness, and at times even violence.

To refrain from being hostile when experiencing anger is a skill that must be practiced. But in order to do so, one must be aware that anger is present and also have the ethical belief that engaging in hostile behavior is not optimal. The ethical sense associated with this ethical belief must be stronger than the anger motivating the hostile behavior. Unfortunately, our culture has not yet accomplished acquiring such unambivalent ethical beliefs. Instead, our culture to some extent fosters admiration of hostile behavior and applauds skillful examples of it.

It is apparent that we are fascinated by, and even thrilled by, the struggle for dominance. We flock to movies that depict violence. We love sports that present thinly veiled fighting or that are simply overt, primitive fights. This kind of entertainment was present in the ancient Roman Coliseum and is present today in recreational fighting events that go all the way to "extreme combat sports." As adults we shout and cheer when overt fighting occurs in games, just as children come running and cheering when two or more get in a fight on the playground. We look for hostile behavior in our reality shows and primitive talk shows that are set up for the purpose of eliciting anger and hostility, and we look with admiration upon unusually skilled examples of hostile speech in comedy shows, sitcoms, and dramas in general. We advise each other to "get back" and "get even," and we are eager to see people "get what is coming to them." Punishment, retaliation, and revenge feel "right" to us. We look down upon "wimps," and we do not have much belief that we can be effective without being hostile. Many of us not only feel good about being hostile, but also actually consciously practice doing so. Some of us actually crave getting into fights, and arrange to do so. For some of us, the absence of hostility would make life boring. And all of this tends to promote pain, suffering, disability, and early death. Yet we accept it as "a part of life."

Now, in no way am I advocating not taking up for oneself to avoid victimization. There may always be occasions when it is best to fight. But what I am saying is that doing so is acting against one of the most important ethical principles we can have, and therefore will best be preceded by whatever thought can be engaged in as to the probable consequences of doing so. One is far better off preventing the escalation of a struggle for dominance insofar as is possible.

We now come to the second most important principle of problem-solving behavior. This principle, when combined with the first, will drastically improve the chances of a good outcome.

The second principle of problem-solving behavior is that one should maintain, and reassure the other that one has, the appropriate attitude. Note that maintaining it is not enough; one should reassure the other that one has it.

But what is the appropriate attitude? It is the attitude that follows logically from one's lifetime of experience, and yet it is the opposite of the attitude that comes naturally.

First, let us be clear what an attitude is supposed to mean, for our purposes. Remember that behavior is determined by beliefs and motivational states. An attitude, for our purposes, will be a cluster of related beliefs. There is essentially no difference between an attitude and a belief, for our purposes, but I am using the word because, as we shall see, the appropriate belief (attitude) is one that must be practiced, since it does not come naturally. My point is that although one generally thinks of belief as involuntary, there is the possibility of changing some belief upon becoming aware of its inaccuracy and undesirability, and people speak frequently of the changing of attitude as a possible, voluntary act, even though it may require effort and practice. Much of this will become clearer when we get to the chapter on "Rational-Ethical Belief Management."

Now, I have said that the appropriate attitude (belief) is one that follows logically from one's own lifetime of experience. I demonstrate this (in my work with couples, for instance) by asking the following two questions:

(1) Have you not observed, many times in your life, two individuals having a difference of opinion, such that if one is right the other can't be, since the opinions are opposite from one another? (So far, everyone has agreed that they have seen this. True, they could both be wrong, but at least one of them has to be.)

(2) AND, both of them are certain they are right?

What is the logical conclusion to be drawn from this observation? Is it not apparent that the feeling of certainty that one is right is no good evidence that one is? In the set of these individuals who are convinced they are right and are in disagreement with another person who is also certain that he or she is right, at least half of them are wrong. In fact, although they can't both be right, they could both be wrong. So in such a situation, the odds are probably slightly more that one is wrong. This then is a large number of people who are certain they are right who are nonetheless wrong.

So the first part of the appropriate attitude is:

Even though I believe I am right, I REALIZE that I could be wrong.

Now, contrast that with the natural attitude, the one that is much more likely to be observed, namely, "I KNOW I'm right, so YOU are either lying, dumb, or crazy, or just plain bad." Let us look at various responses that follow from the natural attitude:

  • (1) You're lying!
  • (2) You know better than that!
  • (3) Are you trying to tell me that you believe...?
  • (4) You can't really believe such a thing!
  • (5) Just listen to me! (I'll straighten you out.)
  • (6) Let me explain something to you.
  • (7) How dumb can you be?
  • (8) That's stupid!
  • (9) You've got a lot to learn!
  • (10) I feel sorry for you!
  • (11) That's crazy!
  • (12) How can you believe such a thing?
  • (13) You ought to have your head examined!
  • (14) If you believe that, I don't want to have anything to do with you.
  • (15) Well, you just believe what you want to!
  • (16) Get out of here!

Let us now rename the appropriate attitude as the "open attitude," referring to being open to the possibility that one could be wrong (no matter how certain one is that one is right).

The open attitude is a higher level of functioning within the brain. It is the development of a belief about the feeling of certainty that accompanies a belief. It is a belief about a belief. It is usually not until adolescence that an individual can actually think about his or her own thinking, but if the open attitude were taught and modeled as a part of child rearing, as will be talked about in the next chapter, we would probably, I believe, see this capability in children prior to adolescence. (This remains to be seen, of course.)

So, the second principle of problem-solving behavior is that one should recognize that, if someone is disagreeing with oneself, even if one feels certain that one is right, one could still be wrong. Not only that, however, one should reassure the other that one has this open attitude. The reason for the need for reassurance is that the other person will assume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that one has the natural attitude (described above).

But there is a second part to the appropriate attitude. Again, this second part is also a logical attitude to have, even though it is the opposite of the natural attitude. In order to demonstrate the logical nature of it, I generally ask two questions:

  • (1) If you are wrong about something, would you want to find out you were wrong so that you could become correct? (Most individuals answer yes to this question. However, a few will answer negatively, saying that it is just too painful to learn that they are wrong. My impression is that these individuals have a greater set of problems in living, related to being more out of touch with reality.)
  • (2) If you are wrong about something, are you more likely to find out that you are wrong, and thus become correct, if you listen to someone who agrees with you, or someone who disagrees with you? (When the person fully understands this question, he or she generally states that listening to the person who disagrees with oneself is more likely to clarify that one is wrong. The value in hearing critiques from others of one's own ideas is what is being talked about here.)

So the appropriate attitude may now be called the open, listening attitude.

But we must clarify the particular kind of listening that we are referring to. Most will claim that they are indeed listening to the other person. That is how they "know" the other person is wrong, and it is also how they "know" how best to "refute" the other person. In other words, the usual way of listening to the other person is to figure out how to show the other person that he or she is wrong. But the kind of listening we are referring to in the open, listening attitude is that which has a different goal than the one just mentioned. One knows why, in one's own mind, one believes as one does. What one does not know is why, in the other person's mind, the other person believes as he or she does. So, the kind of listening that is optimal is that in which the goal is to see why, in the other person's mind, one's own belief does not seem correct to the other. In other words, the listening attitude that we are talking about here consists of the kind of listening that fosters the other person presenting the beliefs and reasoning that exist in the other person's mind. This kind of listening manifests itself in different kinds of behavior. Instead of refuting, rebutting, explaining, contradicting, etc., it manifests itself in the asking of questions and in requests for information. It is only when one sees why, in the other person's mind, it seems clear to the other that one is not correct that one really has a clear picture of what is producing the difference of opinion.

Now there is a reason for having, and reassuring the other that one has, the open, listening attitude, and that reason is that it works, that is, that it optimizes the chances for agreement to occur and for anger to subside.

There are two possible outcomes to successfully maintaining and reassuring the other that one has the open, listening attitude:

  • (1) One may indeed acquire additional knowledge or insight that results in one realizing that one has been wrong, so that one does benefit by becoming correct. One can then say to the other that the other has indeed changed one's mind, on the basis of this new information or line of reasoning. One clearly benefits from this outcome, if it is indeed a good thing to be correct. And there is the added benefit that now there can be agreement.
  • (2) On the other hand, when one has listened to the other to the extent that one now sees why the other believes the way he or she does, one can see what the other was missing or not seeing that resulted in the mistake. Then one can say, "You know, I think I have an idea about what the reason for our disagreement has been. May I share that with you?" It is usual that the other will listen. Then, one can clarify what information the other was lacking, or what mistaken assumption the other was making, that led to the other's belief. Once again, there is now the possibility of agreement.

So, reassuring the other that one has the open, listening attitude would consist of statements similar to the following:

  • "It does seem apparent that we disagree. However, I realize that I could be wrong, and if I am, I certainly want to know. Help me to understand why you think I am wrong. I really appreciate the feedback."

And this would indeed be felt (would be an accurate description of one's own internal way of thinking) and therefore would be said sincerely. Note that one cannot say it sincerely unless one does indeed have the open, listening attitude, so one needs to practice having this attitude in order to make it strong enough to be functional.

In situations in which anger has arisen in the other person toward oneself, the belief of the other person is either that one has been mean to the other person or that one has not lived up to the other person's appropriate expectation. Of course, there are four other possibilities. (The reader is referred back to the six problem types, under one of which the problem producing the anger will fall.) We can combine the two possibilities (that one has been mean to the other or that one has not lived up to the appropriate expectation of the other) into a general statement that one has "done something wrong." Thus, another rendition of the open, listening attitude would be:

"I can see that you believe that I have done something wrong. Perhaps I have. I don't see it yet, but if I have done something wrong, I certainly want to understand what I have done and try to make it right to you. So can you help me to see what it is that you believe I did wrong? I really appreciate the feedback."

The above words, of course, do not have to be used. But the thoughts that those words model are what need to be conveyed to the other. And the other may need lots of reassurance that one really does believe what one is saying, because the other will, as we have said, assume that one has the natural attitude unless one gives much evidence to the contrary.

So now we have covered the top two principles of problem-solving behavior:

  • (1) One should not be hostile, even though one may be experiencing anger.
  • (2) One should maintain, and reassure the other that one has, the open, listening attitude.

Skillful adherence to these two principles (ethical rules of conduct) will drastically improve one's chances of having a good outcome.

The next two principles are actually "two sides of the same coin," so to speak.

The third principle is that one should not interrupt the other when the other is speaking.

We are talking about anger-containing situations, in which the other has anger toward the self. (Interrupting the other is far less hazardous if there is no anger.) If I have a point to make, and it will require three sentences to make the point, as for instance in the statement of a syllogism, it will be important for me to convey this understanding to the other. But perhaps I start out on these three sentences, and after getting the first half of the first sentence out, the other person interrupts with some rebuttal or disagreement. I then attempt to deal with that statement by focusing on it, only to have the same thing happen once again. Long gone is the opportunity to make my syllogism clear to the other person. This inability to be heard, then, produces more anger in the self, and pushes the interaction toward a struggle for dominance.

Not interrupting is what the self should do. It would be nice if the other did not interrupt, either, but one cannot and should not count on the other to follow the principles of problem-solving behavior, as has been mentioned already. So if one is talking and the other interrupts, one should become silent and let the other finish. Then one can say to the other something like:

"I understand that you have some concerns that need to be addressed. However, I am worried that you will not understand what I am trying to get across unless I can say the whole thing at one time. Would it be okay if I try again to give this whole point? We could then get back to the point that you have just raised. Or, if you prefer, we could discuss what you just raised and then get back later to what I was trying to convey."

Remember that the words used may vary. It is the thought that counts. And the thought should, of course, be shared in a non-hostile manner.

The fourth principle is that one should not talk too long.

If A is listening to B and is accumulating a set of rebuttals to what B is saying, or a set of clarifications or explanations that offer a different viewpoint, when A has accumulated about seven or so, A will start believing that clearing up B's misconceptions or inaccuracies is going to be impossible, in that A probably won't even remember all of the points to be made, much less be able to do a thorough job of explaining. When one person talks too long, the other becomes demoralized, and therefore much more prone to become hostile and thus promote the struggle for dominance.

There are times that one person may wish to try to demonstrate to the other a complicated conclusion that he or she has drawn, and that may require presenting a fair amount of data that needs to be heard without interruption in order for the presentation to be effective. Under these circumstances, it is best to ask permission of the other person to make such a presentation. This may be done as follows:

"I believe I can convey to you why I believe as I do, but it will take my speaking without interruption for awhile, probably about five minutes. Would it be okay if I did that? After I have done that, we can go back over any parts of what I have said that don't seem right to you."

The other will usually allow this, but may suggest or decide that it would be good to take notes so that points of disagreement will not be forgotten and ignored. Another arrangement that the two might make, that is often helpful, is to have the understanding that if the listener is in disagreement with something that the speaker has just said, he or she will raise a finger to signal this. Doing so will not be an interruption of the speaker, but it will alert the speaker that something is probably going wrong with the communication. The speaker then may choose to give more detail by virtue of a guess as to what the listener is having trouble with, stop and get clarification before proceeding further, or proceed further but with perhaps the recognition that it will be beneficial to stop earlier than planned due to something going wrong.

So now we have covered the top four principles of problem-solving behavior:

  • (1) One should not be hostile, even though one may be experiencing anger.
  • (2) One should maintain, and reassure the other that one has, the open, listening attitude.
  • (3) One should not interrupt the other.
  • (4) One should not talk too long.

The fifth principle of problem-solving behavior is that one should not change the subject.

There are three very common ways in which the subject is changed in efforts to discuss anger-containing situations.

The first common way in which the subject is changed is the discounting of anger.

Remember that if one person has anger toward the other, the one person believes that the other has done something wrong (has either been mean to the other or has failed to live up to the other's appropriate expectation). The way that anger is usually discounted is to explain it according to some hypothesis that does not involve the other. The other might say:

  • (1) You aren't really angry at me; you are just tired.
  • (2) You aren't really angry at me; it's just your cold that is making you irritable.
  • (3) You aren't really angry at me; you just had a bad day at work and are taking it out on me.
  • (4) You aren't really angry at me; you are just PMS-ing.
  • (5) You aren't really angry at me; you just had a bad childhood.

It is of course true that the intensity of anger may be increased by psychological, neurological, or metabolic factors that do not have to do with the person toward whom the anger is directed, but if anger is directed toward the person, then the cause of the appearance of the anger in the first place is one of the six types of problems described above, and it is this problem that must be solved in order to have a satisfactory resolution and outcome. If one makes a statement to the other similar to those above, one can usually expect an escalation of anger based upon the expectation that one will try to understand the other and "take the other seriously." Discounting anger tends to lead to demoralization, a feeling of hopelessness based upon the belief that adequate discussion and clarification of the problem is impossible.

The second common way in which the subject is changed is the focusing on the other's manner of presentation.

The most common example of this is complaining about the other's hostile behavior, as in the following examples:

  • (1) Don't talk to me that way!
  • (2) I don't like your tone of voice!
  • (3) Can't you be nice?
  • (4) You know, I would be much more receptive to what you are saying if you wouldn't yell at me!
  • (5) Calm down!

Praising the other's behavior can have the same effect, as in, "Gosh, you really are getting so you can express yourself well!"

Changing the subject in this manner will almost always, again, escalate the struggle for dominance. Each example is an obvious or subtle criticism of the other. The other feels that his or her communication about what he or she feels strongly about is being ignored, and this is inconsistent with what the other expects, or considers fair or appropriate.

The other's way of behaving or communicating may indeed be suboptimal and a problem to the relationship, and it then should, of course, be discussed at some time. However, it should be discussed as a subject in its own right, in a separate conversation, at an optimal time for such a discussion. (Timing of discussion will be discussed below.)

The third common way in which the subject is changed is by referring to other topics, usually complaints about the other, as in:

  • (1) Well what about what YOU did YESTERDAY?! (And twenty years ago?!)
  • (2) What I did is no worse than what you are always doing!
  • (3) Well that's no worse than the way your mother treats me!
  • (4) Well, you deserve what I did, because of all the times you have mistreated me.

Again, the topic may be important to discuss, but it should be discussed in its own right, at a separate time. The effort in problem-solving behavior should be to understand the events that produced the sudden appearance of anger, meaning to identify which of the six problem types the problem was an example of, so that the appropriate resolution and development of new procedure can take place.

So now we have covered the top five principles of problem-solving behavior:

(1) One should not be hostile, even though one may be experiencing anger.

(2) One should maintain, and reassure the other that one has, the open, listening attitude.

(3) One should not interrupt the other.

(4) One should not talk too long.

(5) One should not change the subject.

(a) One should not discount anger.

(b) One should not comment on the other's communicative behavior.

(c) One should not comment on what the other has done.

The sixth principle of problem-solving behavior is that one should initiate discussion properly.

This principle is somewhat more complex. It becomes slightly different depending upon who is using it. There are two possible circumstances in which problem-solving behavior may become appropriate:

  • (1) Anger first arises in the self toward the other.
  • (2) Something leads the self to believe that anger may have (first) arisen in the other.

If anger first arises in the self toward the other, one should first choose a good time to talk to the other about it and then ask the other's permission to use the time for this purpose. An example of doing this might be:

"There is something that I want to talk with you about. I have some feelings about something that I may be overreacting to or drawing some wrong conclusions about, and maybe you can help me with those feelings. (The reader should note the open, listening attitude.) I figure that it might take about fifteen minutes. Is now a good time for us to discuss it?"

The goal in this kind of initiation is that of having a satisfactory discussion without premature termination of the discussion, perhaps leaving another anger-containing memory. The other might say, "Sure, now is a good time." But he or she might also say, "Let me go to the bathroom first, and then it will be okay," or "Gosh, my favorite TV program is just starting; can we wait till it's over?" or "I want to talk about it too, but I think its going to take longer, so what about talking about it during supper?"

Not only is this initiation best to avoid premature termination of the discussion, but it also aids in preventing a change in subject. If the other does change the subject, one can more easily say, "Well I understand that what you have brought up needs to be discussed. Do you feel so strongly about it that we should shift to discussing it? We can do that and then get back to the topic I am trying to discuss, or we could finish my topic and then discuss yours. What do you think we should do?" Since the person has already agreed to discuss one's subject, he or she will probably agree to stick with it when it is apparent that his or her topic is a different one.

If something leads the self to believe that anger may have (first) arisen in the other, one should attempt to get this confirmed as soon as an appropriate time to have the discussion occurs. There are social situations in which it is not appropriate to discuss personal issues. The next best time might be in the car on the way home. It may not be necessary to have the full discussion right away, but it will help the other to know that one is aware that something has gone wrong and is willing to discuss it. The open, listening attitude must be maintained and conveyed. An example might be:

"I have the feeling that you may be upset with me. Do you feel that I have done something I should not have? I may have made a mistake, and if so, I would like to hear about it so that I can make it right. Please help me to understand why you are upset."

And if there appears to be insufficient time to discuss it adequately, one might add:

"I know we can't discuss it adequately now, but I do want to discuss it, and if I have made a mistake, I want to make it right."

It should be noted that this principle having to do with initiation of discussion is seldom followed. Instead, discussion is often initiated by the person who develops the anger at the time that it develops, without regard to the appropriateness of the situation, and often with unsatisfactory completion of discussion because of this.

It is important to use appropriate wording when initiating discussion. Some individuals do not easily admit to anger, so reference to it may not be wise. Instead, asking whether the other believes that one has done something wrong, without any reference even to the other being "upset," may be the wisest thing to do. Reference to the feeling of anger may be experienced by the other as a criticism, in that he or she may think that one is saying, "You shouldn't be angry." Knowledge of the other's ways of thinking and talking will help one to avoid the appearance of criticism and will make reassuring the other that one has the open, listening attitude easier.

So now we have covered the top six principles of problem-solving behavior:

(1) One should not be hostile, even though one may be experiencing anger.

(2) One should maintain, and reassure the other that one has, the open, listening attitude.

(3) One should not interrupt the other.

(4) One should not talk too long.

(5) One should not change the subject.

(a) One should not discount anger.

(b) One should not comment on the other's communicative behavior.

(c) One should not comment on what the other has done.

(6) One should initiate discussion properly, by choosing what seems to be the best time (for uninterrupted discussion), and:

(a) if anger has first arisen in self, get the other's agreement for the discussion at that time or later.

(b) if anger first seems to have arisen in the other, confirm that the other does believe a problem exists.

All of the above principles apply actually to hierarchical relationships as well as peer relationships, but hierarchical relationships require an additional principle. Again, by hierarchical relationships we mean essentially relationships in which the society assumes, or assigns, a position of dominance of one individual over the other. In such relationships, the expectation would be that the subordinate will "obey" the superior within a domain of decision-making that depends upon the specific nature of the relationship (parent-child, employer-employee, leader-member, etc.).

The fact that there is this societal expectation of obedience means that the superior will also expect it. If the subordinate does not do as the superior has directed, the superior experiences this as the subordinate being "insubordinate," that is, failing to live up to the appropriate expectation of the superior, and the superior experiences anger, with the natural tendency to become hostile to the subordinate and to engage in behavior usually labeled as "punishment" or some equivalent term, such as "discipline."

But the subordinate has certain expectations of the superior, also. The subordinate usually has the expectation that he or she will be listened to if he or she has concern about how he or she is being treated or if he or she is making a request of the superior.

So the seventh principle of problem-solving behavior is that, in a hierarchical relationship, the appropriate reassurance is given as to the concern of the one to do right by the other.

If one is the subordinate, then one would reassure the superior that one is going to be obedient to the superior (assuming that the situation is not one in which the subordinate believes he is being asked to do something unethical). The reassurance might be something like:

"I certainly intend to do what you request me to do, and to do my best in doing so, but I would like to express my concern about certain aspects of what you are asking me to do. Is it okay with you if I tell you what my concerns are?"

If one is the superior, then one would reassure the subordinate that he will be listened to, perhaps as in:

"I welcome your bringing this matter to my attention. I know that you would like me to decide in the manner you have suggested. Of course, I have to do what I believe is right, but I realize that I could be in error. So, if you still believe that I should decide this matter differently, then let's plan to discuss this some more. We can both think about it and meet again to see if either of us have any new ideas. For the time being, I must stick to my decision for the reasons I have given you, but the door is not closed."

Now the above examples are meant only to give a flavor of the kind of interaction that would be optimal. There may be aspects of the situation that would make some of the comments given above inappropriate.

Also, different kinds of hierarchical relationships may require some modifications appropriate to those relationships. But the general idea of each reassuring the other that he or she intends to do right by the other is, I believe, always applicable.

So now we have covered the top seven principles of problem-solving behavior:

(1) One should not be hostile, even though one may be experiencing anger.

(2) One should maintain, and reassure the other that one has, the open, listening attitude.

(3) One should not interrupt the other.

(4) One should not talk too long.

(5) One should not change the subject.

(a) One should not discount anger.

(b) One should not comment on the other's communicative behavior.

(c) One should not comment on what the other has done.

(6) One should initiate discussion properly, by choosing what seems to be the best time (for uninterrupted discussion), and:

(a) if anger has first arisen in self, get the other's agreement for the discussion at that time or later.

(b) if anger first seems to have arisen in the other, confirm that the other does believe a problem exists.

(7) In a hierarchical relationship, one should reassure the other of one's concern to do right by the other.

(a) The superior should reassure the subordinate that the subordinate will be listened to.

(b) The subordinate should reassure the superior that the subordinate will do as the superior says (if ethical).

The reader is free to develop his or her own principles and to advocate them to others. The above is my list, in order of importance as I have seen them in my practice and in my personal life. My prediction, which of course can be incorrect, is that a better list cannot be constructed, though I know that the list can be added to and the items in the list can be elaborated upon.

These principles, ethical rules of conduct, are guides to optimize the chances of a good outcome. They do not guarantee it. They are not always what one should do, but if one sees that one is about to do something that is contrary to what one of the principles would recommend that one do, one should think very carefully about whether the situation really warrants deviating from the principle.

It should be noted that none of the above principles is likely to seem incorrect. I believe that the majority of people would say that they make good sense. However, it should also be noted that one seldom sees individuals following these principles in actual situations. Again, they do not come naturally. They have to be taught and learned. Our culture does not agree that following these principles is correct. My belief is that it is quite likely that, in the time of "Homo rationalis," when and if that time comes, these principles will be known to everyone, and will be taught to and modeled for children from infancy onward. But we, ourselves, can, in our own individual lives, and within our own families, and with our own children, follow these principles and thereby foster good relationships within our spheres of influence and within the limits of our capabilities. Doing so will be promoting the survival of and the good life for our species, meaning for all of us, now and in the future.

But what we have now covered is what I have referred to as external anger prevention. It is the effort to change the situation that has produced, or is likely to produce, anger.

Internal anger prevention is the effort to reduce or eliminate the anger that one experiences in response to the situation.

There certainly can be debate as to whether one should attempt to reduce or eliminate anger.

There is a general awareness that chronic anger has a detrimental effect on one's physical and mental health, as well as on the quality of one's relationships with others. Some individuals are regarded by others as living under the domination of feelings of anger over past traumatic situations such that their current decision-making is suboptimal and their quality of life is degraded. They are advised to try to "get over it and move on," to "be forgiving," to "forget about it," to "let bygones be bygones," etc. And there are cultural recommendations to "love one's enemies."

On the other hand, in our current society, there is also a set of values that promote anger.

Much of the appeal of the media comes from its display of evidence of anger and even its display of hostility, especially that which is skillfully engaged in. As noted already, many of us are thrilled as we see hostile conflict, usually between "the forces of good and evil." (Of course some point to what seems to be an increase in the tendency toward violence on the part of children who have much exposure to such portrayal of hostile models for identification.)

Individuals may be looked down upon if they do not demonstrate that they have anger about certain situations. Not having anger may be regarded as not being a good citizen. If something mean is done to someone and that individual does not display evidence of anger, he or she may be considered defective in some manner. If something mean is done to someone, and that person's acquaintance does not display evidence of anger, the acquaintance is not regarded as a good friend. A person not displaying evidence of anger may be regarded as "not having any feelings," and thus as inferior. And some individuals take pride in their anger, nurse it, and make a point of displaying the evidence of it to others, this presumably showing that the individual "has values" and is superior in some way to those toward whom the anger is directed. (On the other hand, there is also the general knowledge that emotion tends to distort reason, that there are "always two sides" in any conflict, and that anger in no way increases the likelihood that the individual who has it is correct. For this reason, as arbiters of conflicts, individuals are sought who are "impartial" and not likely to be swayed by emotions as they examine the issues.)

And there is an even greater reason given for valuing anger, namely, that it serves as the motivational state that produces behavior designed to correct the problem that has produced the anger. For instance, if there is some injustice that continues to occur, anger about it may lead to behavior that brings about the end of the injustice, so the idea goes. In fact, many would believe that all the major advances in overcoming injustice have been accomplished by behavior motivated by anger. (However, it is possible that such progress has actually taken place in spite of the usual reaction of anger, by virtue of something new that has been added that has allowed us to transcend, or improve on, our basic animal nature. That something new is what this book is about.)

And finally, there are approaches to "anger management" that utilize the concept of "getting the anger out," so that it will not "fester inside," and cause physical or mental illness, or at least some excessive, inappropriate hostile behavior. Getting the anger "out" usually, but not always, refers to some sort of hostile behavior, sometimes directed at a substitute for the original target. Once having been "gotten out," the anger "inside" the person is presumably less intense or perhaps even gone. He or she has "gotten it out of his or her system." This way of conceptualizing "emotions," "drive states," etc., has been referred to as the "hydraulic" model. Anger would be regarded as something like a substance, which is in a container, the mind, and obeys to some extent the laws of physics, such that if some of it is "gotten out," it is no longer in the vessel, and pressure inside the vessel is relieved. (The problem is that this metaphor or model does not fit observations very well. There is, to be sure, a tendency for a feeling to be less intense after it has motivated a large amount of effort, somewhat following a "satiation" model. However, there are also examples where the anger seems to grow in intensity over time, when the person keeps being hostile. Also, the hostile behavior often elicits anger and consequent hostile behavior from others (struggles for dominance), a situation that tends to escalate, as has been covered earlier. In contrast to the hydraulic model, I believe there is a more adequate model, which essentially is an extension of the concepts given in the chapter, "Basic Concepts: Determinants of Behavior," and will now be elaborated upon.)

In the model being used in this book, anger generally arises in response to a situation, involving the perception of, the memory of, or the prediction of some event(s). But in fact, when anger arises in response to such events, it is not the events themselves that produce the anger but the person's beliefs about those events. The person would need to believe that the events had occurred or might occur, for one thing. Also, the person would need to interpret the events in a particular way for the anger to arise. To interpret the events means, in the language of this book, to come to a belief about the events. This might include a belief as to the motives of others or a belief as to what is expectable from others. To carry this idea further, and to be consistent with the earlier part of this chapter, these beliefs would have to be either that the person(s) toward whom the anger is being directed was/were being mean to oneself or was/were not living up to one's own appropriate expectations.

When we develop anger toward person or group X for doing something that has an impact on others, but not ourselves, it is because X is not living up to our expectation that X not do so. We say that X should not have done that. This is an ethical belief, of course. It will relate to other ethical beliefs that we have about what is fair or proper, that is, what should or should not be done. We also are able to "imagine what it would be like" to be the victim of X's action or to be someone who cares about the victim, and by this act of empathy develop the equivalent of the belief that we are indeed impacted in the same manner, and we therefore to some extent react as if we ourselves have been victimized. This will be clearer after reading the chapter on "Rational-Ethical Belief Management."

Thus, the motivational state of anger is primarily produced by BELIEF, existential and/or ethical.

So for a person to reduce or eliminate anger in response to something that has occurred, it will be necessary to CHANGE his or her BELIEFS about what has happened.

We have seen how in external anger prevention the solving of the problem leads to a disappearance of the anger. If the problem is that B has not lived up to A's inappropriate expectation, when A realizes (comes to believe) that his or her expectation is not appropriate, the anger goes away, and A can reassure B that he or she no longer has anger toward B. The change that allowed the anger to go away was a change in belief. The change in belief was from believing that the expectation was appropriate to believing that it was not. Thus, A no longer has the expectation, which had been a belief that B should not have done whatever it was that caused the anger.

Now there is an important distinction to make when we talk about whether B should or should not have engaged in the act (or failed to do so). Let us take an extreme example. A person sees a victim of an accident pinned down by something weighing 300 pounds. The victim may be saved if the something can be lifted off the victim. Obviously, the person should do so, if he or she can. But suppose he or she can't? Then we would not say that he or she should do so. This is a way of saying that we should not expect the person to do the impossible. Now sometimes whether or not a person can do something is not clear. In other words, how difficult (or painful, or harmful) for the person should something be in order for us not to expect it of the person? Because of our imperfect empathy, what may seem easy or possible to one of us might seem extremely difficult or even impossible to another of us. And in the absence of having much information, we essentially have the option of believing that the desirable behavior is or is not, or was or was not at the time, possible for the person. If we consider that the behavior, though it would have been desirable, was not possible for the person, then we would not expect that behavior of the person, and therefore would not have anger toward the person because of not doing it. We would "understand," or "be understanding."

I believe the reader will be able to see that this way of reducing or eliminating anger is quite common and well-recognized. It is referred to in many different ways. The essential ingredient is that of coming to believe that, given the characteristics of the person toward whom the anger would otherwise be directed, the person cannot or could not be expected to live up to the expectation in question. The following is a list of examples of statements made to someone to help him or her get rid of his or her anger toward X:

  • X didn't know any better.
  • X simply didn't understand.
  • That is simply X's nature.
  • X simply made a mistake, that's all.
  • X was just being human.
  • X was just overwhelmed by his feelings and couldn't think straight.
  • X was under the influence of Y and simply could not do otherwise.

So we see that changing one's belief such that the other is seen as not being able to live up to one's own expectation changes the problem type from the other person having failed to live up to one's own appropriate expectation to the other person having failed to live up to one's own inappropriate expectation. With the cessation of the expectation comes the cessation of the anger.

And we now can recognize that there is indeed a difference among people with regard to how "understanding" or "judgmental" they are. Those who are "judgmental" have many expectations of others that others fail to live up to, and therefore much anger is generated. Such individuals are frequently observed making statements about how awful certain other persons or groups are and how they should be punished or retaliated against, and they frequently experience anger. Individuals who are more "understanding" generally give others "the benefit of the doubt," and acknowledge that they have not been "in the other person's shoes." The judgmental individual is similar to the individual considered to have the "type A personality," being very "impatient" and prone to anger. The understanding individual is closer to the "type B personality," who takes a "more relaxed" view of life and is not easily angered. We know that the more "judgmental" an individual is, the more distress that individual produces in others and the more prone the individual is to physical illness.

Now I am aware that the natural response to what I have written will be something like, "You apparently think no one should ever be expected to do right, and that we should, for the sake of getting rid of our own anger, accept all sorts of atrocities on the basis that the perpetrators just couldn't help doing them. So according to you, no one should ever be held responsible for anything, The world will become chaos if we do that!"

I wish the reader to know that in no way do I believe that suboptimal, harmful behavior should be overlooked or not responded to. The issue is not whether there should be a response, but what the response should be. I would maintain that the response that comes naturally, as a part of our basic animal nature, has not demonstrated itself to be particularly helpful, assuming that the goal is to eliminate such behavior. The evidence for this statement is that, over the past thousands of years, we still are doing all the same bad things.

And what is the natural response to suboptimal, harmful behavior? Whatever else is done, there seems to be a basic response of retaliation, motivated by anger. This retaliation is usually labeled "revenge" when referring either to peer relationships or hierarchical relationships from the viewpoint of the subordinate, and "punishment" when referring to hierarchical relationships from the viewpoint of the superior. The retaliation is justified by the questionable belief that the only way the same behavior can be prevented in the future is by causing submission through the induction of fear. It can readily be seen that we are again referring to the "struggle for dominance" phenomenon, and we have seen that there are no good outcomes to the struggle for dominance. Of course, this statement depends on what the meaning of "good" is in this context. Certainly, after an episode of struggle for dominance in which one's self is seen as having won, or in which those with whom one sides are seen to have won, one is likely to refer to the outcome as a good one. But if we take a look at the overall effect of the episode, considering all of the consequences to everyone for all time, one is likely to see a fair amount of suffering having been added to the totality of the suffering of our species.

If, for example, a serial killer is put to death, there is some feeling that the need for revenge (through punishment) has been satisfied. But we have to ask if the likelihood of other serial killers making their appearance is any less. Also, we have to ask whether we will have learned more how to stop serial killers from coming into existence if we put this one to death, as opposed to studying him or her in depth, thereby learning that which might prevent untold numbers of such tragedies in the future. We have to ask whether we, ourselves, become better people when we kill the individual, or when we refrain from optional killing. We have to ask whether we will be more likely or less likely to continue studying the problem after we have killed this individual, rather than keeping the individual alive and having to deal with the fact that such an individual exists. We have to ask whether it is at all possible that, given enough time and enough effort to understand the individual and to attempt to change him or her, he or she might have something positive to contribute (perhaps from a supervised environment), to offset what he or she has already done, and that our effort to acquire this understanding may have made us more skilled in certain ways and thus more able to do additional things to make the world a better place.

Is it even possible that one of the factors that goes into serial killing is the very same attitude, within the culture, that punishment, revenge, and killing are appropriate responses to suboptimal behavior? How does an individual develop within the culture such that he or she can live with the idea of serial killing, or killing in general? Does this say something about the culture?

I maintain that "Homo rationalis" will have concluded that retaliation, revenge, and punishment will have been one of the more defining characteristics of "Homo sapiens," and will be seen as both cause and effect of our nonrational approach to suboptimal behavior. They will look at our child rearing practices and conclude that our species at this time fills our children with chronic anger, which serves as the motivational state for much of the mean and destructive behavior that we manifest every day. I maintain that they will have found a better way. That way will be based upon knowledge as to what really does work, as determined by much study, only some of which has so far been done, of course.

So let the reader be reassured that I do not advocate that we "overlook" or "ignore" or "accept" or "condone" suboptimal, harmful behavior. What I do advocate is that we take a conscientious look at how we respond to suboptimal behavior and ask ourselves whether how we respond really does work. If not, then we should do what we can to find ways that do work.

Meanwhile, however, we still have to ask whether the anger that we experience in response to certain suboptimal, harmful behavior of others contributes anything positive toward the solution of these difficult problems. What about the question as to whether the anger is what is necessary to motivate behavior to correct the problem? I believe that the anger, if anything, detracts from the efforts to correct the problem, because, given our basic animal nature, anger primarily motivates hostile behavior, which in turn generally escalates struggles for dominance and generates even more anger. The more intense any emotion is, the more difficult it will be to do the right thing, if the right thing is different than what the emotion (motivational state) tends to produce. Anger promotes the opposite of cooperation with the target of the anger.

And what, then, does indeed motivate doing the right thing? As we have seen before, we are talking about doing what we should do, among all the options existing at the time of the decision. There is one motivational state that always, by definition, motivates one to do what one believes one should do, and that is the "ethical sense" that accompanies the ethical belief as to what one should do. Unfortunately, since our species still primarily utilizes authoritarian ethics rather than rational ethics, and since we have seen that authoritarian ethics fails badly to accomplish the good life for us, there is little effective authoritarian-ethical motivation to do the right thing, compared to the strong motivational states that push us do other things. Compared to the (predicted) rational-ethical sense of "Homo rationalis," the primarily authoritarian-ethical sense of Homo sapiens is very weak and ineffective in many of us.

Nevertheless, it is doubtful that anger is the needed motivation to make things right; the ethical sense, especially associated with rational ethics, should, and often does, provide this motivation. And achieving a more optimal way of living is what this book is about.

One can currently find many recommendations as to how to get rid of anger (internal anger prevention). I offer just one, based upon the anger prevention paradigm, and that is what has been stated above, namely, to come to an acceptance that, to a varying (from person to person) degree, by virtue of how we do things as Homo sapiens, we cannot expect each other to be free of the tendency to engage in suboptimal behavior. Instead, we can attempt to understand others as much as possible, while doing what we can to promote the handling of suboptimal behavior in the most effective ways known to us. By "effective" I mean tending to reduce the frequency of such behaviors.

So, how might this effort to use internal anger prevention look during an effort at external anger prevention? Imagine the following statements by A, who had developed anger toward B:

"I realize that, given how you were feeling at the time, you really could not help doing what you did. So I no longer have anger toward you. But what you did caused me much pain, and I really cannot, at least yet, see what you have done as having been the right thing to do. If you agree, let's work on finding some way for us to avoid that happening in the future. If you don't agree, then let's talk about it some more to see if we can indeed come to agree upon what would have been the right thing to do."

In other words, the changing of one's expectation of the other regarding something that has happened in no way reduces the necessity to work on preventing the situation from occurring again, nor does it prevent doing such work.

It should be noted that the original anger did indeed serve a purpose. It served as the "smoke alarm" indicating that there was a problem to be solved. The continuation of the motivational state of anger, however, is not what will help bring about the improvement for the future. What will help most is the development of the ethical sense in association with the ethical belief that a problem does definitely exist and should therefore be solved, in order to promote affection and intimacy, or at least stress-free interaction, in the relationship. Such ethical belief will motivate problem-solving behavior, that has the greatest chance of improving the relationship.

So now let us summarize the whole topic of rational-ethical anger prevention, as I predict "Homo rationalis" will view it.

When anger arises in a person in a relationship, his or her basic animal nature tends to engage in hostile behavior, which fosters a struggle for dominance, which in turn leads to one of four bad outcomes, bad because they nevertheless leave an anger-containing memory. It is the buildup of these anger-containing memories that intensifies future anger reactions and causes mistakes in interpreting situations such that some situations will be seen and therefore reacted to as replays of the past even though they are not. This development of chronic anger in the relationship leads to ever-increasing painfulness of interaction, driving the individuals apart, with ultimate relationship breakdown. But the individual can, instead of engaging in hostile behavior, engage in problem-solving behavior, designed to establish which of the six problem-types was responsible for the appearance of the anger. Doing so allows for appropriate resolution (depending on problem-type) and the development of new procedure in the relationship, designed to reduce the likelihood of that problem recurring. The quality and stability of the relationship is thereby enhanced.

In order to engage in problem-solving behavior, the individual must know, in words, the principles of problem-solving behavior (which are ethical propositions that promote the person doing differently from what the person's basic animal nature would have the person do), and the individual must have become proficient, through practice, in translating these principles into actual, optimal behavior, just as is true in the development of competence in the use of the principles of CPR. The principles must be few, simple, and clear. The principles of problem-solving behavior are adaptable to the peer relationship and to the superior and subordinate positions in the hierarchical relationship.

This effort at external anger prevention is aided by internal anger prevention that consists of taking a more "understanding" (less "judgmental") approach to the other person, while maintaining the effort to solve the problem (rather than just letting the matter drop, leaving an anger-containing memory).

When one is victimized by another who does something destructive to oneself, one can secondarily become also a victim of one's own anger, which will reduce one's quality of life, foster suboptimal behavior, and promote physical and mental illness. If one instead takes an "understanding" approach to the other, making the assumption that the other's past history, life circumstances, inaccurate beliefs, and/or excessively strong motivational states have dictated such behavior, the anger may subside, whereupon one may find that efforts to figure out what will most likely reduce the likelihood of such victimization in the future become easier.

It should be apparent that our species has a long way to go to get to the goal of having the above-summarized way of dealing with anger-containing situations. However, even though no one person can make a noticeable dent in the current picture, as far as our species is concerned, that one such person can indeed drastically change his or her own life for the better by conscientious study, practice, and application of the principles and concepts outlined in this chapter, and doing so will have a substantial benefit on the lives of the people within that person's sphere of influence. And it is by virtue of individuals demonstrating the value of doing so through modeling for identification, and by exploring with others the validity of these principles and concepts, that multiple, tiny spheres of influence can ultimately begin to coalesce and increase in volume, so to speak, thus promoting this third exponential change that I believe the reader can increasingly come to conceptualize and value.

If the reader leaves this change up to others, he or she cannot expect the change to occur. It is only by virtue of individuals doing their part to make the world a better place that such an expectation (prediction) can be reasonable. Such change must be from the bottom up, so to speak. The change will not be brought about by "government." Government is a reflection of our values. We must, as individuals, have the ethical motivation to bring about these changes within ourselves. We must wish to make the world a better place within our own spheres of influence. Does the reader wish to do so?