With every new year, I refresh my resolve to watch my temper and control the malicious things I say to others, even people I love.
Now, mind you, I don’t utter obscenities. My verbal weapon of choice for my “meltdowns” is sarcasm and a razor-sharp, cruel vocabulary. I’m not proud of this darkness in my soul and try to justify it by blaming my Irish genes. In my “mellowing years,” I’ve done better at controlling my wrath because — to my great embarrassment — I usually find out later I was mistaken, misinformed, over-sensitive, over-tired and/or speaking out of some skewed perception of my having been wronged. So, my heated arguments with my husband have morphed into what I call “intense fellowship.”
It’s a matter of control.
Speaking of which, I noticed an admonition on a church sign the other day. It proclaimed, “He who angers you, controls you.” Oddly enough, we believe we’re the one in control when we’re venting our vehemence at a target, whether it’s a human one (guy who cut us off in traffic) or a non-human one (TV that quits in the middle of Super Bowl game).
Somehow, we delude ourselves that screaming and foul language can change the attitude or the performance of the thing that angers us.
I try to remember when I feel the anger bubbling up inside me that the fruit of the Holy Spirit includes self control. It’s a spiritual gift I too often reject.
Sometimes anger simmers, like a pot on a stove, until it boils over and makes a mess. Other times, it escalates quickly, striking without warning. Kind of like stepping on a rattlesnake. Whether you simmer or strike, you give the other person power over your emotions. And if BOTH parties are angry, it can turn ugly very fast, leading to irrational threats and accusations. In the heat of the moment, we say crazy things that defy all logic and evidence. Later, upon cooling, we feel stupid, but usually not stupid enough to apologize and make peace.
After all, we have our pride.
While anger may occasionally be constructive (It’s called “righteous indignation.”), our hapless rage at having been wronged accomplishes nothing. Feeling we have lost control over the other person’s behavior, (She hurt me, and I couldn’t do anything about it) we tell ourselves that our fury will make us feel better.
Not only do we NOT regain any control over the situation, we lose even more.
A preacher friend tells a story illustrating the self-destructive force of anger. The Montgomery Biscuits were playing the Mobile Bay Bears. In that game, pitcher Mark Elliot made a bad pitch in the 8th inning, allowing Montgomery to tie the score. Furious, Elliot went to the bathroom between innings, slamming the door so hard he accidentally locked himself inside.
When the 9th inning began, nobody could find him. They delayed the game while another pitcher, not as talented, was called up. Trapped in the bathroom, Elliott, who might have otherwise saved the day, was prevented from helping his team. The Biscuits scored in the 9th inning and won the game.
Be careful about slamming doors when you’re angry.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle reminds us that it’s only human to become angry. But, he added, we should be “angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way.” Jesus angrily threw the moneychangers out of the temple. Overturning their tables, He raised his voice in loud accusation, “You have made my house a den of thieves!”
But we ain’t Aristotle, and we definitely ain’t Jesus. Few of us can be angry in the “right way.”
Edwin Lutzer’s book “When You’ve Been Wronged” lists five evils of inappropriate anger:
•It fills us up with toxic bitterness which spills over onto others
•It makes us blind to our own faults
•It consumes us in the vengeance that belongs to God alone
•It’s destructive, hurting our target, innocent bystanders, and ourselves
•It becomes an idol replacing the devotion we owe to God
Wise old Solomon had a point when he wrote in Proverbs that it is “better to dwell in the corner of the rooftop than with an angry woman in a big house.”
I would re-write the proverb to read: “It’s better to run for cover than mix it up with a hothead.”
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.