Yesterday I witnessed a very bad scene between a couple. They were yelling like crazy at each other. Insults floated around angrily. I was troubled. Does it have to be always ‘louder, cruder, ruder, meaner’?
The Book of Proverbs says no. “Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense”. And the Letter to the Hebrews advices us, “see to it that no roots of bitterness springs ups and causes trouble”.
Anger can be ugly. Like fire it finally dies out; however it always leaves a path of destruction behind it. It is like the valve on a pressure cooker. When it “pops its cork”, it spews all over everyone in its way.
Mind you, anger is not necessarily evil. Motivated by unselfishness it can be directed against the abuse of what is right – justice, compassion, love.
However to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, in the right way is not easy! As they say, anger is just one letter short from d-anger. “He makes me so mad!” we often say. The problem however is not entirely the other. Pouring hot water over a tea bag doesn’t make tea. The tea is already there. The hot water just brings out its strong flavor. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” Jesus Christ says so clearly. Hot-water situations can not bring anger out of you unless it’s already there. Besides, to be angry with a weak man is proof that you are not very strong yourself.
Anger needs to be dealt with positively. Otherwise it turns into more negative emotions like resentment, bitterness and hate.
First of all, keeping anger inside is not healthy. Saint Paul even says, “Be angry,” and then he adds interestingly, “…and do not sin; do no let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.”
This means simply that once angry, you need to take action quickly to stop the cycle before the roots are so deep they are almost impossible to destroy. As Barney Fife would say, “Nip it! Nip it! Nip it!” Confront quickly the person you are angry with. Make decisive steps of reconciliation. Ask forgiveness if necessary. Admit that you have been angry and find it so hard to deal with certain situations.
When you are calm, if possible, deal with the real problem. Remember, whether the other party repents of his wrong or not, you will benefit by knowing you did the right thing. Remember also that whoever angers you controls you.
One simple trick is not to answer an angry word with an angry word. It is the second one that produces a quarrel.
3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul tells the story of the monk sitting at the side of the road when he is confronted by a samurai warrior, who demands to know what the difference between heaven and hell is. After a protracted silence, the monk answers by saying, “You who are so untidy, whose hands and feet are covered with dirt, whose hair is messy and whose breath is foul, you would ask me of heaven and hell?”
The samurai was livid with anger. He drew his sword and raised it high above his head to sever the monk’s head from its shoulders, when the monk gently said “That is hell,” as the sword began its descent. In that fraction of a second, the samurai was overcome with amazement and compassion as he realized that this gentle monk dared to risk his very life to give him such a teaching. He stopped his sword in mid-flight and his eyes were full of tears. “And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.” The Book of Proverbs (chapter 14) again is so right, “A soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If we could all take a deep breath, work out what we were actually upset about, and pull our options for dealing with the things that make us mad into conscious choice – wouldn’t that be something to shout and scream about?
In his writings Saint Francis de Sales touched the lives of many. The remedies against anger, he says, are four. “1. To forestall its movements, if possible, or at least to cast them aside quickly, by turning the thoughts to something else. 2. In imitation of the Apostles when they saw the sea raging, to have recourse to God, whose office it is to give peace to the heart. 3. During the heat of passion, not to speak, nor take any action as to the matter in question. 4. To strive to perform acts of kindness and humility towards the person against whom one is incensed, especially in reparation for any of a contrary nature.”
“Be not quick in your spirit to become angry because anger lodges in the bosom of the fools” (Ecclesiastes 7: 9). The Boston born poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it skillfully, “for every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness”.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.