There’s a verse, Proverbs 22:24, that says in the King James Bible, "Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go."
The verse is both a warning and a command, and one Americans should heed — not just to avoid those angry men, but to avoid becoming them.
There’s a lot of anger in the air these days, and because of new means of communication, it’s easy to share in that anger. This is a time of economic uncertainty mixed with social upheaval, and that makes people uneasy.
But those are external factors, and externalities should not so determine our happiness. It’s why the Apostle Paul was far more joyful chained in prison than he was as a respected and rising member of his country’s religious hierarchy.
Happiness is determined internally, and among the internal factors contributing to a too-angry America is a culture of unreasonable expectations. We expect that if we work hard, deserved prosperity will follow. We expect to have what we want pretty quickly, even if we must borrow to get it. We expect to enjoy a secure retirement that lasts decades.
We expect to abuse our bodies for years and then be repaired like a car at the shop, but for less money. We expect there to be no environmental consequences when we use our natural resources. We expect our personal values and beliefs to be affirmed by society and, though we may say otherwise, enforced by the government. We expect to live happily ever after, like people have always seemed to do on TV.
These expectations cross ideological and party lines. We are a bit spoiled, and spoiled people get angry when they do not get their way.
Maybe it’s time for more reasonable expectations.
We should expect to live in a free and safe society, of course, but we might should accept that what’s happening with the economy isn’t just a new normal but a return to the regular one.
What has been normal during the past few generations is pretty unusual — in fact, unprecedented. It’s been based on factors that existed only briefly, such as American global domination and favorable demographics, or that aren’t sustainable, such as too much debt.
The experiences of most people throughout history have been far different. Life for most has involved much uncertainty and labor, even until old age, when people have been cared for by their families and nearby tribal members. There have always been irrevocable personal consequences for personal actions. There have been consequences for societies, too.
This is not a call for pessimism. Pessimism looks to the future negatively. Instead, it’s time to look at the present realistically. That’s how a society and individuals make choices that create a better, happier future.
The externalities, after all, aren’t perfect, but they are sufficient. America isn’t completely free or prosperous, but it’s free and prosperous enough. Not everyone will agree on every issue, but most of us can find our tribe. Most of us can obtain meaningful work, material comfort and personal connections if we try. If we have those things and still are angry and unhappy, we have only ourselves to blame.
It’s a new year, which means many of us will be making New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions are good except when they involve unreasonable expectations, which they often do.
Better to see this as a time of renewal, of high, internal goals, starting with this: Not to be that angry man the Bible warns us to avoid.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.