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Interview with Leon James:

Boston Globe Article  Tara Arden-Smith   February 2001

It seems that several decades ago there were many more physical outlets for anger that were reasonably innocuous, socially acceptable and certainly less lethal, i.e. the schoolyard fistfight. My father, who was raised in northern New Hampshire in the 1940s and '50s, recalls an era when a jerk might end up with a black eye... and all was resolved. Today, the threat of suspension, expulsion, a civil lawsuit, or even prosecution, would deter such forms of low-level "vigilantism," if you will. Anger thus builds, and in a few people is eventually released in an especially ferocious manner. I wonder if in your research you have found that when people feel (or indeed are) more free to express their anger in immediate and socially-acceptable ways, they are less likely to engage in egregious "nothing-left-to-lose" outbursts? What kinds of predictive factors are associated with violent rage? Are any of these factors more recently developed in American society?

I'm working on an article for the Boston Globe's "Focus" section on modern rage, and you've been referred to me as an excellent source.

Yes, indeed. In case you haven't seen our Web site, please visit and you'll find elaborations on our perspective that might be of relevance to your article and thinking about the topic. Especially our new book where we discuss the Age of Rage in relation to our special topic of road rage and aggressive driving. The book is described at the bottom of this email and excerpts of our book may be read on our Web site:

We are also working on our second book which will discuss the Type R mental virus (an analogy of course). R is for rage. Your statements below fit the idea very well. We shall comment as we go along. On our site you will find collections of news stories that cover the new rages: road rage, boating rage, surf rage, desk rage, and so on.

The idea I'm trying to explore is whether contemporary litigiousness and increasingly official behavior-regulation has contributed to the more extreme and fatal outbursts of rage that we've seen in recent years and months, i.e. Edgewater Technology shootings, kicking-to-death of elderly man in Portland, Maine supermarket....

In our view one must make a distinction between "causes" of rage and "occasions" for rage. Litigiousness and official behavior-regulation are occasions that provide the individual with the opportunity of rage and violence. But the cause of rage is in the individual who uses the occasion to express rageful behavior. Proof of this may be seen by the fact that many individuals have "reasons" to feel and express rage, but do not. So the cause of rage must reside in the individual, and not the provocation or occasion or "reason" given. If we maintain this distinction we can understand the Type R personality better.

 It seems that several decades ago there were many more physical outlets for anger that were reasonably innocuous, socially acceptable and certainl less lethal, i.e. the schoolyard fistfight. My father, who was raised in northern New Hampshire in the 1940s and '50s, recalls an era when a jerk might end up with a black eye... and all was resolved. Today, the threat of suspension, expulsion, a civil lawsuit, or even prosecution, would deter such forms of low-level "vigilantism," if you will. Anger thus builds, and in a few people is eventually released in an especially ferocious manner.

We think that the rage behavior is a personality trait learned in childhood and practiced as an adult. Many factors contribute to the Type R personality: modeling angry parents and TV characters are the primary source of influence. Copy cat violence is well known, and this is but one indication that modeling rage behavior takes place. Practicing rageful behavior is a second source. This may be observed in school bullying, workplace violence, and domestic abuse. In all these events the individual is practicing and rehearsing rage behavior. Violent video games and rage wrestling also trains many individuals how to be rageful.

Given all these influences, every generation is going to express rage behavior in its new way, and this often translates into an escalation of the rage epidemic. This is what many are now beginning to notice and wonder about. Certainly it ought to be a worrisome concern. We explore this in depth in the book we're currently writing called RAGE CONTROL: Understanding the Type R Factor. We discuss it somewhat in our published Road Rage book.

 I wonder if in your research you have found that when people feel (or indeed are) more free to express their anger in immediate and socially-acceptable ways, they are less likely to engage in egregious "nothing-left-to-lose" outbursts? What kinds of predictive factors are associated with violent rage? Are any of these factors more recently developed in American society?

We would say that people today have been trained from childhood to feel free to express their anger and to use it as a control strategy on others. The manner of expressing the anger varies with cultural sub-groups. Men are more rageful than women because of cultural norms. Young men are more rageful than older men because as you get older you have more opportunities to train yourself for self-control and inhibit overt aggression.

Generally the experts today state that expressing anger by venting and ruminating over something, is a form of obsession and creates stress, as well as gives you more opportunity to acquire the rage habit. It is no longer recommended by health professionals that we express our anger in order to feel better and be able to stop obsessing about it. The facts appear to be the opposite.

Paul Pearsall, a popular author who invented the expression Type R when he read our road rage book for a review, puts it this way in his book THE PLEASURE PRESCRIPTION: Don't suppress it, Don't express it, Confess it. We interpret this to mean that if you confess your anger to yourself, you begin to realize that it is not a good thing to keep a grudge and criticize, let alone entertain violent fantasies. This inner motivation provides you with the power to overcome the rage habit. As long as one believes that it is good for you to express anger, you cannot overcome the rage habit, but only strengthen it by additional practice.

In our road rage book we present the opposite of road rage and aggressive driving, which we call "supportive driving." And this we feel contains the antidote to the Type R virus in general. It may sound naive to say that love cures rage, but it is essentially true. To accomplish this one needs to understand that rage is a highly self-injurious trait psychologically and spiritually, which is why we call it a mental virus.

Leon James and Diane Nahl

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