The pessimist, who believes there will always be hatred and war, should
note that the most primitive people on earth (discovered in the Philippines in
1966) are gentle and loving. They have no word for war. How do they control
their aggression? What is their system? The entire tribe discourages mean,
inconsiderate behavior and encourages cooperation from an early age.
Everyone is expected to provide a good, loving model for the children (Nagler,
1982). Please note: This non-aggressive culture was developed without
modern education, without great scholars, research and books, without
powerful governments working for peace, and without any of the world's
great religions. If that primitive tribe can learn to love, why can't we? It may
not be too difficult after all. Nagler makes an impassioned plea for non-
violence in our time. The other bit of history I want to share with you is from
Seneca, a Roman philosopher-educator, who served several Emperors until
Nero executed him in 65 AD at age 61. He was an extraordinary person.
Seneca wrote a book, De Ira (Of Anger), which has been summarized by Hans
Toch (1983). In it Seneca proposed theories about aggression and self-help
methods remarkably similar to the best we have today. It is humbling but it
suggests that common anger problems may not be that hard to solve (we
have been too busy waging war for the last 2000 years to work on reducing
violence). Seneca said "hostile aggression" is to avenge an emotional injury.
"Sadistic aggression," with practice, becomes habitual by frightening others
and, in that way, reduces self-doubts (negative reinforcement). He noted that
anger is often an overkill because we attribute evil to the other person or
because the other person has hit our psychological weak spot, lowering our
self-esteem. Sounds just like current theories, right?
There are some subjects about which you will learn the truth more accurately
from the first man you meet in the street than from people who have made a
lifelong and accurate study of it.
-George Bernard Shaw
What were his self-control techniques? (1) Avoid frustrating situations by
noting where you got angry in the past. (2) Reduce your anger by taking
time, focusing on other emotions (pleasure, shame, or fear), avoiding
weapons of aggression, and attending to other matters. (3) Respond calmly
to an aggressor with empathy or mild, non-provocative comments or with no
response at all. (4) If angry, concentrate on the undesirable consequences of
becoming aggressive. Tell yourself: "Why give them the satisfaction of
knowing you are upset?" or "It isn't worth being mad over." (5) Reconsider
the circumstances and try to understand the motives or viewpoint of the other
person. (6) Train yourself to be empathic with others; be tolerant of human
weakness; be forgiving (ask yourself if you haven't done something as bad);
and follow the "great lesson of mankind: to do as we would be done by."
Remarkable! Seneca was clear and detailed. He covered the behavioral,
skills, unconscious and especially the cognitive-attitudinal aspects of self-help.
He did no research; he merely observed life around him. Now, if we can add
research to those ancient "clinical observations," we may be able to make