The illusion of control

It is entertaining to observe people’s behaviour at an airline’s assistance desk.

Passengers flock to the service desk when their flight is delayed or they have missed their onward connection. They often curse, talk about how terrible their situation is, and generally invest efforts into making a scene. Also, their anger is directed at the poor contractor behind the desk, who often isn’t even an employee of the concerned airline.

Why do people throw such tantrums? Do these tantrums help them with their onward journey?

When filled with anger, we often have an illusion that we are in control of the situation. The person fuming at the counter is led to believe that their fuming is instrumental in fixing the situation – that without this outrage, they would be left stranded at the airport.

Yet, all the trantrum does is that it raises their heart rate, spikes their blood pressure and shortens their lifespan.

Martha Nussbaum defined anger as the illusion of control when we actually have none. And as the Buddha pointed out, to be angry is to carry hot coal in our hands that we wish to throw at our enemies.

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