Ready: Getting control on that anger thing

Mary Ready
Mary Ready

I’ve had a lot of reason to be angry lately, whether it’s our ruinous national politics, world-wide craziness, or personal slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Last week, remember, I wrote about the yardman.

My anger was soothed somewhat by writing that column about him. I considered it both a public service and a cautionary tale.

Maybe it’s old age, but I’m at peace about that experience, and I’ve even prayed for the rascal. Prayed that his heart might be changed, and his conscience stirred so that he’d never cheat anyone again and be a “good boy” from now own.

I can hear you laughing out there.

There was a time when my revenge machine would have been activated, and I would have retaliated in any number of creative, nasty ways. Worse, my temper would have been unleashed along with my sharp tongue. In my “mellowing years,” I’ve done better at controlling my wrath because — to my great embarrassment — I sometimes find out later I was mistaken, misinformed, over-sensitive, over-tired, or over-reacting.

It’s a matter of self- control, a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

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, like the guy who cut us off in traffic. Somehow, we delude ourselves that screaming and foul language can improve the situation that caused us so much rage.

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 common sense. 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.

The result?

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.” A good example is Jesus angrily throwing the money changers out of the temple.

But we aren’t Aristotle, and we definitely aren’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

The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Wisdom is better than warheads, but one hothead can ruin the good earth.”

And I offer this advice as a recovering hothead.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.