Google "anger" and you'll come up with lots of links referring to a behavioral disorder, usually accompanied by words such as "aggression" and "rage." There are links to help you deal with this constructively.
That whole idea took a hit recently in Virginia, where a 57-year-old anger management counselor made the unfortunate choice to wave a gun at a couple of guys he felt were obstructing his drive down the road. Those guys turned out to be federal agents staking out a potential fugitive nearby.
Perhaps this isn't an ideal topic for Valentine's Day. Then again, perhaps it is, given the nation's high divorce rate and the seemingly never-ending problem of domestic violence. It turns out the counselor isn't much different from the average American in a nation beset by more anger than management.
An opinion poll this month by Rasmussen Reports asked 1,000 random likely voters how angry they are at the federal government. Fully 75 percent admitted to being at least somewhat angry, with 45 percent identifying themselves as "very angry." Just to prove that this anger is not based on blind loyalty, 60 percent said neither Republicans nor Democrats know what they're doing.
That's just politics, you say. People vent all the time about Washington or the state Legislature. That doesn't mean they all go home and hit their spouses. Maybe that's true, and then again, maybe not.
Yes, crime rates remain relatively low in this country despite the recession. But you don't have to watch television very long to notice that popular culture is filled with demeaning and belittling words. Can people really play with anger during the day and leave it behind when they go home?
Rasmussen's Web site offers its own explanations for the political anger. Most Americans oppose the health care reform efforts. They also are angry at the bank bailouts and at growing federal deficits that threaten the nation's long-term economic health.
I dislike those things, too. They ought to mobilize political action. But the problem with anger is it tends to drown out rational thought. On further reflection, I find myself agreeing with billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who said last week the bank bailout eventually would return a profit for the nation. That may not fit neatly into the slogans or placards one sees at rallies these days. Nuanced thought seldom does.
Were Americans always this angry? It's hard to say. Looking through newspaper archives, you can find evidence of that. In February of 1933, for instance, hundreds of people stormed the Salt Lake City-County Building, overwhelming sheriff's deputies in what was described as a "riot" over impending foreclosure sales of homes.
But there is evidence in the other direction, too. The letters to the editor this newspaper published after that event seem so much more tame than what we're receiving these days. One took issue with the paper's characterization of the people as rioters. "Though ragged and pinched as many of them were, inside those rags warm hearts were beating," it said.
That writer was trying to persuade with eloquence, which is a lot different than yelling.
I suppose the American Revolution was born of justified anger. But it's important to recall that the Revolution was followed by Shays' Rebellion, whose adherents thought they were acting in the same spirit, upset by taxes and debt.
Instead, many of the Founders were appalled that the central government did nothing to quell the rebellion, which spurred the move to scrap the Articles of Confederation.
Times aren't nearly so bad today. The government may be doing things we hate, but we have a democratic process in place to take care of it. If we all end up like that anger management counselor in Virginia, nobody wins.