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Biologically Programmed Behaviors

by Izzy Kalman (March 2004)

Sometimes seminar participants criticize me for supposedly contradicting myself. I am grateful for such criticisms because they make me think and sharpen my views.

On a few occasions, I have been told that I claim that anger is a genetically programmed behavior, yet I tell people they can stop themselves from getting angry. They tell me that just like you can’t control hunger and the need to urinate, if anger is a genetically programmed behavior, how can I tell people it can be controlled?

What is the answer to this dilemma? Eating, urinating, and anger are biologically programmed behaviors, but the first two are NEEDS, while the latter is a RESPONSE. You can’t live without eating and urinating, so we cannot make these needs go away without dying. However, anger is a response – a response to danger (pain or the fear of pain). If there is no danger, then anger doesn’t get triggered. Biologically we are best off if we have a life without danger. And in civilization we don’t experience as much danger as when we were living in nature.

What I teach is that most of the things that trigger our anger in civilization are not true dangers. When you realize that the people who have been triggering your anger are not real enemies looking to injure you or kill you, then it is a simple matter not to respond with anger.

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