• Dave Burns

The Purpose of Rage, Part 1

Updated: Oct 26


Do strangers always treat you with respect? 


Do clients pay every invoice on time? 

Do all houseguests take off their shoes? 

It would be striking if the answer was “yes” across the board. No one has complete control over any of these domains.

But we do have much, much more influence over them than most people acknowledge. 


The way we treat ourselves may be our first responsibility, and the way we treat others our second; but the way that others treat us is a close third.


The primary means through which we determine the behavior of those around us is through the vehicle known as boundaries.


The personal development world has wrapped this word in all sorts of complex definitions and dogmas, but if we strip it down to its essence: 


Boundaries are the laws of one’s personal domain.


All of us carry around a 3-dimensional bubble of what is “ours.” Everyone walks surrounded by a mobile kingdom. 


You can boil down the complications of interpersonal relationships to this: 


Because we move, the territories of our kingdoms constantly overlap.


Even if you shrink the bounds of your kingdom to include only yourself, you’re still going to walk into someone else’s world. 


And the moment you enter someone else’s world, you either follow or break the laws of that world. 



This perspective becomes useful the moment we examine what a “law” actually is. 


Laws are nothing more than guidelines backed by the threat of violence. 


Without the threat of violence, punishment, or force looming in the background, a law is not a law. 

This means that the power of your boundaries (your personal laws) is directly proportional to the capacity for violence that people sense in you. 


Even if this capacity is simply for the violence of soul-piercing verbal sharpness, or the clean severing of a relationship—without it, “boundaries” have zero power. 


people’s behavior towards you = guided by your boundaries 


boundaries = personal laws


laws = guidelines under threat of violence


Therefore: if you want people to treat you well, you need to be capable of violence. And the capacity for violence is directly dependent on the health and strength of your relationship to anger, vengeance, and rage. 


When it comes to any situation in life: we can accept it, or we can change it. 

To change means to destroy the way things are. It also means to birth, or at least to midwife, a new reality into existence; but this fact does not take away from change’s destructive element. Entering into a relationship destroys bachelorhood. Having a baby destroys the existence of a non-parent. All changing = destroying. 


Without the impulse to do something, we lack the energy to do it. This means that our ability to destroy is contingent on accessing the impulse to destroy.


And the impulse to destroy is known among human beings as anger or rage


This means that rage is one of our greatest allies in changing the world around us. 


This is particularly true in cases where change requires direct destruction—demolishing a wall in a renovation, telling a friend an ego-piercing truth, or firing a subpar client. 


In the interpersonal realm, rage—the destructive impulse—can aim at destroying many things. 


-someone’s unjustified contentment 


-their pride, or self-satisfaction 


-a specific shell of ignorance 


-a specific way of relating 


Destroying any of these things is a form of violence. And of course it’s incredibly easy to do such things sloppily, cruelly, manipulatively, or oppressively. 


But not being willing to enact such expressions—and repressing, disowning, or disconnecting from the rage that fuels them—means that your boundaries have nothing behind them. They are flaccid communications or meaningless ideas. 



If you visit a foreign country, some laws you will have to learn through conversation. Others you will immediately pick up on, through the behaviors and energies surrounding you. 


If you enter a zendo, you may need to be told to take your shoes off. But you should naturally pick up on the fact that it’s a place to move with mindfulness and care. 


Some of your personal laws you may communicate proactively (“please don’t bring wine to our dinner party on Friday”); 


Some you explain in response to infractions (“please stop leaving the dishes in the sink”); 


And some you simply transmit through your quality of presence. 


Being friends with your anger, vengeance and rage means that you walk around at all times with a bodyguard. And regardless of what you communicate directly—people tend to treat you better when you have a bodyguard.



Other things (besides your capacity for violence) certainly contribute to people’s willingness to respect the laws of your kingdom:


Most significantly, their level of respect for you, and their level of love or care. 


The simplest way to earn respect is with integrity, and the simplest route to being loved is to love others as intensely as you can. 


If a formula exists, then, for people behaving well towards you, it would be something like this: 


love + integrity + the felt capacity for violence. 


The power of this trifecta goes far beyond the realm of others’ behavior; it extends into the domains of art, thought, and decision-making in daily life. 


Part 2 of this article will explore those far-reaching ramifications. 


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