Friday, June 13, 2008

How to get angry like a lady.

Painting the walls in our house without music, conversation, or some other form of entertainment is about as fun as, well, painting walls. We keep The Current cranked on, but even they start to get a little repetitive and there's only so much Portishead, The Cure, and, yes, even Gnarls Barkley a person can take before it's time to crank up the podcasts. I've pretty much listened to almost every "This American Life" episode, so I've increasingly turned to WNYC's "Radio Lab" to entertain me while painting and to provide me with conversation points at later social events. For those who have never listened to "Radio Lab" -- it's a really great show where they explore one topic (like in This American Life -- although often more abstract at the same time as being more scientific or research-based.) The sound editing is amazing -- it's fast and musical and imaginative. It takes a few episodes to get used to, but it's great once you are.

A recent "Radio Lab" I was listening to was about the mind-body connection. In addition to a fascinating story about this guy who lacks proprioception (basically his brain can tell his body what to do, but his body doesn't communicate back to the brain; there are about six or seven people in the world who lack this sense), there was a story about how men and women argue differently. Basically, when we get upset at someone for, say, leaving the toilet seat up (and argument that fortunately, never happens in our house -- seriously), our body starts to tense up and our heart beats faster before our brains even process what we're upset about. Meaning that anger is a physical experience before it is a mental one. When anger passes, our bodies relax, our heart slows back down, and then our brains say, "it's OK" and we apologize. The thing is that this calming down process happens faster in men than it does in women. Ergo, women will sometimes keep an argument going for longer than a man will. Women will sometimes linger on an issue that the man feels is settled. Her body is still telling her that she's angry while the man's body tells him the moment has passed.

This show made me think of two things. First, sorry, Eric, for all the times I've dragged out an argument when you've clearly moved on -- like that one time that I sat through an entire, funny movie (The Darjeeling Limited) not laughing because I was still mad at you for some infraction that I can't even remember now. It was not my fault. It was my autonomic nervous system.

Second, "Radio Lab" seemed to have missed part of the bigger discussion about how men and women get angry and argue. They seemed happy to leave it at "this explains the stereotype of why women dwell on and revisit old arguments." If we just wait it out, the story seemed to suggest, our anger would pass and we'd all be on our way. But certainly even if anger is a physical response before it's a mental one (and therefore seemingly void of logic), doesn't it have some (evolutionary or otherwise) purpose? Like, for example, maybe anger is a motivation to change the world around us -- or at least the thing that triggered the anger in the first place? Is anger just a way to point out to our minds, "Hey, something here isn't working as well or as efficiently or productively as it could. Do something about it. Make him put the toilet seat down." (All right, I'm playing into the stereotype with that last sentence.) Doesn't that mean that women are more effective agents of change? I'm joking... but not really.

Radio Lab, I'm a little bugged with you and I will likely stay that way for a few days even though you are clearly over it.


Matthew Sumera said...

I find that cultivating anger--through music, reading, meditation, whatever--is the best way to get me through the day. I feed on it, like a vulture to carrion.

And by the way, when are you going to return my emails? I'm starting to get angry over here.

Salty Miss Jill said...

Emotions arise from physical sensations-that's the good ol' James-Lange theory, which has been long been refuted. Those radio people are talkin' smack.
You're smart and funny and I'm gonna keep reading your blog. :)

Rhena said...

Thanks Salty! I like your profile pic.