Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Intercept Anger Before It Begins
We all get angry. It's a normal part of our human experience. Anger is neither wrong nor bad. As with all emotions, it serves a valuable purpose and in this case alerts us to the fact that something is amiss and needs our attention to correct. It is how we choose to express and apply it that determines whether or not it will be a beneficial force in our life or a destructive one.
People sometimes act inappropriately: they disrespect us or can be just be plain mean at times. It's not uncommon to take personal offense to their rude behavior and respond with anger. This, however, is the handiwork of ego, that self-serving part of the human experience that values the self above all else and creates a fabricated division of humanity by assigning false values to specific individuals.
Ego justifies a hostile response by judging and labeling the "offending" party as a jerk, ignorant, nasty, etc. By devaluing them it becomes easier to react with aggression. But an angry response benefits neither the perpetrator nor the object. So how then can one respond to the wrong-doer?
Several years ago, I was traveling southbound on a major highway. An upcoming jug handle provided access to the northbound lane where I needed to be. To those unfamiliar with this particular intersection, the turn can be deceiving. Sparing you the confusing details, as I proceeded to enter the northbound lane, a driver to my right made a sharp illegal left hand turn cutting me off and nearly causing a collision. A quick honk alerting him to his mistake resulted in him giving me the finger (no, not a thumbs up). Immediately I felt a surge of rage! How dare he disrespect me! He's the one who committed the infraction. If it weren't for my quick reflexes there would have been an accident and he would have been completely at fault! We continued up the highway, he in the lead, me directly behind him. I could see his anger becoming more intense as he glared at me in his rear-view mirror, ranting uncontrollably while flailing his arms about like a gorilla swatting swarming mosquitoes. I said nothing. I did nothing. I simply observed. And the longer I did, the more I felt sadness for him. What could possibly be going on in his life that would cause such a severe and prolonged reaction over a relatively minor incident?
In my work at the battered women's shelter, I had a client early on who very reluctantly attended my anger management classes on Monday evenings. She was clearly unhappy to be there and each week made it apparent by her passive/aggressive behaviors. I was annoyed and somewhat offended. I needed to speak with her and decided to give myself a week to carefully choose my words, letting her know exactly how upset I was with her. When that fateful evening arrived, I approached her but immediately felt a change of heart. "Would you like to have lunch with me on Wed," I asked? Her face softened into a smile as she responded, "Yes, thank you." Two days later, as we sat over platters of grilled chicken and salad, she revealed her very painful story of losing her husband and eventually everything they owned. "I came to this shelter with nothing more than a small bag of clothing. I lost everything and I'm terrified about what's going to happen to me." Fear manifest as anger - classic case.
What I learned from both of these experiences was simply a reinforcement of what I've known and taught for years: behind everyone's perceived inappropriate behavior lies unresolved issues of pain, loneliness, fear, insecurity, loss, etc. Ego takes personal offense to the expression of their suffering; spirit seeks to understand and soothe it. It's called compassion: the ability to feel another person's pain coupled with a sincere desire to alleviate it. I can choose to live in ego and respond with anger. Or I can live authentically, as Spirit, and choose the benevolent response of compassion. In doing so, the anger never manifests and the cycle of rage is broken. In each moment, God changed my heart and I was given the opportunity to bring healing to those who are hurting. And what greater privilege in life is there than this?
"Be kind to everyone you meet for each one is fighting their own battle." ~ Plato
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