RECENTLY, I was asked a question in the street by a man a bit older than me.

“Why do so many people seem so angry?” he asked.

It was after an unpleasant encounter soon after we’d both got off a bus. Maybe it was more of an observation than a question, but I felt it was a comment which needed a response, partly because I agree with him that anger seems to be too frequently boiling under the surface in everyday encounters.

The obvious example is road rage, I suppose. Anger can be triggered by someone’s tiny but very human mistakes, such as not moving off fast enough, or hesitating for a nanosecond before a turn. If someone honks a horn, it can be like a nuclear anger button being pressed, for both the honker and the honkee (I know this isn’t a word, but I think it should be).

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Being in the safety of a car insulates people from the potential consequences of their rage. I’ve often angrily muttered things under my breath to someone in another car. But I’d never do that if the person was within earshot. I’ve often wondered what it would be like if we treated each other as pedestrians in the same way we do as motorists.

The thing is, I think increasingly we seem to be doing just that.

The incident which had prompted the comment from the man was so minor and human that the response shocked me.

He’d just got off a bus and was taking a moment to rearrange his belongings when someone else got angry with him for being “in the way”. I won’t repeat what was said, but it was rude.

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I was right behind them both and my first instinct was to say something to the man who had expressed such unjustifiable anger. But then my stronger instinct kicked in and I knew that doing so would just make things worse.

But I caught the eye of the older man and he gave me a smile of resignation. That’s when he asked me, without any anger of his own: “Why do so many people seem so angry?”

I shrugged my shoulders as I didn’t know how to answer that question, so instead I asked if he was OK.

“Aye, son, I’m grand,” he said with another smile, this time a happier one. It always amuses me when someone not much older than me calls me son, and it put a genuine smile on my face.

“I dinnae ken what he was angry about,” he said, “but I honestly dinnae think it was me, I was just in the way, poor lad.” Then he went on his way.

I looked towards the man who’d lost his temper. He was now in the distance but I wished that he could hear the empathetic and understanding reflection on his unkind and angry words. I wondered if, by this time, he’d regretted how he’d behaved.

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People have always been angry, of course. There was road rage even before cars, when people had horses and carts. And anger can be justified, healthy and productive, even. There’s so much going on in the world to make us angry, and social media can amplify it in ways we are often not even aware of. Without anger at injustice and cruelty, there would have been no social or political change.

However, I’ve always thought there should be a clear distinction between the anger we feel and express about the state of the world and the way we treat each other as human beings.

Yet, as I reflected on this, I realised none of us are perfect and I too am guilty of sometimes allowing anger to spill over in moments when I feel frustrated or annoyed.

One recent encounter I felt compelled to later go and apologise for. I hadn’t been rude or anything, but I’d behaved in an angry manner that I later regretted. I’d had a terrible day, full of stress and worry, but that wasn’t the other person’s fault and was no justification for me taking it out on a stranger.

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I have to say the understanding and grace of the other person involved, both during the exchange and my later contrite apology, made all the difference.

And maybe that’s my point. I don’t know if there is any scientific or statistical evidence that we live in angrier times, but anger will always be with us.

The truth is humans have always had moments where someone just “gets in the way” and is a trigger for all the frustrations and stress of the day. It certainly doesn’t justify it, but if we can find ways to defuse it rather than escalate it, then we’d all have better days.

That’s what the kindly man with his belongings did that day. I’m glad I was there now, he turned what was an unpleasant moment into a positive experience and gave me an important lesson.