Nope, this post is not about UN resolutions or riots in Israel. Well, at least not overtly.
You may have heard of this before, but I hadn’t until I recently came across the concept of a “Rage Room”, a.k.a. an “Anger Room” or a “Fragment Room”.
Here’s how a “Rage Room” works: You pay a fee, kit up in protective clothing, grab a baseball bat or golf club and spend half an hour smashing anything from crystal glasses to mirrors to TV sets. Pay extra and you can smash more stuff for longer.
Ah, you’re already googling to find a “Rage Room” near you. Not surprising. We all have enough stress in us to want to smash something at some point. The argument goes that it’s healthy to unleash your stress by pulverizing fragile objects. You could say it’s healthier than lashing out at family members or fracturing your fist on a wall.
It may sound tempting, but my knee-jerk thought was, “How unhealthy!”.
Our stress levels are way high. Every day we read or hear of family feuds, domestic abuse, road rage and mass-shootings. To let someone whack a laptop, rather than a fellow commuter or spouse, sounds reasonable.
In fairness, Maimonides indicates that to break utensils or rip clothes in rage or grief feels cathartic. The Midrash even lauds G-d for unleashing His anger on the Temple’s stones, rather than on His people. You could almost imagine that it’s kosher to break things to let off steam.
But “Rage Rooms” don’t work. Science indicates that when you allow someone to rage, you encourage them to rage more. Our brains become addicted to what makes us feel good, and we want more. If violent outbursts makes us feel better when we’re angry, our brains are quicker to become violent the next time we become angry.
Judaism teaches that anger is toxic. Ethics of the Fathers recommends to be slow to anger. Maimonides writes that we should avoid anger at all costs, because it is akin to idolatry. The Talmud warns that anger makes you forget your studies and opens the gates of purgatory.
Yes, Maimonides acknowledges that when people break things, they feel better. But, first prize is to not get angry.
A lash-out-and-thrash session sounds fun, but is deleterious. Popular thinking encourages us to accept and accommodate unhealthy behaviour, rather than to encourage the hard work of self-improvement. Instead of coaching people to self-regulate, we open facilities to allow them to explode “safely”.
In his introduction to Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, references a Talmudic tale as a core guide to personal growth. The tale is of a rabbi who reaches a crossroads and asks a child which fork to take. The child explains that one route is the long-short route to his destination, and the other the short-long route. The rabbi follows the “short-long” route and quickly finds himself close to his destination, but the road is impassable. He then tries the “long-short” route, which takes much longer, but gets him to his destination.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman teaches that all personal growth is a “long-short” path. In colloquial jargon: The longest journey always starts with the phrase, “I know a shortcut”. There are no shortcuts to personal development. There are no quick fixes for stress, anger or any other personality flaw.
We need to stop stripping people of the chance to work to improve themselves. We are too pressured to defend or enable bad behaviour, and too afraid to insist on change.
Anger is not on. A “Day of Rage” or a “Rage Room” is destructive — not only to the victim (human or inanimate), but also to the one “raging”. You can defend a lion’s violence as its instinctive nature. You do no favour to a human when you defend his or her tantrums. We would do well to teach people that change is possible, advisable and advantageous. And then we should direct them to those teachings that will help them manage and recalibrate their vices.
The book of Tanya, for example, would be a good start.