Taming anger

From the Bible to Katharine Graham to a former air-traffic controller, some anger-preventing tips.

Reprinted from The Christian Science Monitor

The voice on the other end of the phone didn’t even say hello when I answered – just an irate “Who do you think you are?” that nearly jumped out of the receiver. 

Wow. That was a shocker. The sparks of anger were flying. Apparently I had innocently done something wrong, an unintentional infraction very upsetting to that individual.

That call actually did me a big favor. Don’t we all occasionally need to revisit “who we think we are”? And this call was a catalyst. Who do I think I am? Am I a self-centered person whose pride and self-importance are so stiff that they can’t bend in humility when challenged? Must I take things personally, retaliate, be hurt or upset, react in like manner? 

I didn’t really like the answer I was getting from myself. I did feel hurt, insulted, angry, bewildered – submerged in a pool of self-pity, injustice, and resentment as a result of that tirade on the phone.

Truly, anger is never a solution, but a trap, a venting of self-righteousness, not productive, not a way to elicit cooperation, not a pathway to clear thinking or positive results. In fact, anger is an obstruction to objective thought, hindering clear thinking that would lead to a solution.

There’s certainly no shortage of opportunities to let emotions boil over. In the media and on the Internet we see the fallout from unrestrained anger boiling over across the globe.

TV networks seem to love anger. They report on a controversial story and then invite us to get angry, upset, and irate. “Weigh in,” they say. “Join in the conversation, give us your comments,” and we are tempted to fall for the pitch and react in hostility.

Katharine Graham, who led The Washington Post for two decades and penned a Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, wrote, “The longer I live, the more I observe that carrying around anger is the most debilitating to the person who bears it.”

In this regard, you can overcome the tendency to rage and to have your thinking clouded by anger, as many successful people have done. But how?

The Bible, from which we can glean so many pearls of wisdom, so many practical applications of logic and peace, is based on the life experiences of wise and thoughtful people over the ages and has many cautions and warnings on the subject.

Jesus of Nazareth advised his followers to turn the other cheek when confronted. His advice was that even if someone slapped you on one cheek, you should turn the other. And he forgave even those who were crucifying him. That was not a sign of weakness, but of a profound understanding that things that make us angry are distractions that pull us away from our true selfhood, the image of divine Love, the likeness of our Creator.

Harking back to my days as an air-traffic controller, when an aircraft in distress needed to land with its landing gear still up, in some instances the runway was covered with flame-retardant foam as the plane approached. Then, as the plane touched down, metal to concrete, instead of producing a shower of sparks, the foam smoothed the way, dampened the sparks, lessened the friction, removed most of the danger, and prevented fires from erupting from the sparks hitting fuel leaks.

My anger-prevention checklist includes some “foam the runway” tips that help me avoid getting angry and help extinguish the sparks that tend to ignite discord, inharmony, disappointment, and ill feelings. These tips are from the Bible:

  •  “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).  
  •  “Leave off contention, before it be meddled with” (Proverbs 17:14). 
  •  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

Nineteenth-century theologian Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, reflected calm and tenderness as she faced incredible challenges in her life. She set out some good guidelines, urging:

Ask to be made patient
And loving when persecuted...
Ask to be gentle tempered
And delivered from all anger 
Or spirit of revenge. 
Ask for this daily bread to feed you. 
(N00137, to “My precious child,” Aug. 27, 1896, The Mary Baker Eddy Collection, The Mary Baker Eddy Library)

God is Love, and as His sons and daughters, each of us can ask for and find life’s peace, inner calm, and a joyous existence without flare-ups of anger.

Adapted from the author’s blog.

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