Imagine a fine, spring day. A man is driving cheerfully along a picturesque road, which winds through the lazy countryside. Suddenly, from around the next curve, a car barrels toward him in his lane. He brakes hard, and as it swerves past, the woman driver screams at him, “Pig! Pig!”
Furious, he shouts back at her, “Sow! Sow!” Pleased with himself, he drives around the curve and runs smack into a pig.
Anyone can get angry. But like Aristotle pointed out, “To be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way is not so easy.” Which is to say, much of the time we get angry either with the wrong person, or to the wrong degree, or at the wrong time, or for the wrong purpose, or in the wrong way.
Few of us are experts here. And there is no shortage of tried and true anger management techniques. Skilled practitioners tell us to slow down and think before we speak, to take a timeout, to find an emotional “happy place,” to use humor, to learn how to relax or meditate...you may use some of these methods yourself. And these practices certainly have a place in keeping ire in check.
But a piece of advice from ancient wisdom may be the most useful of all. It gets at what is probably the most important thing we can do when we become upset and angry. The advice is this: decide to end it. That’s right; anger should be ended. Get it out, then put it down. Biblical wisdom teaches, “Don’t let the sun set on your anger.”
Anger without end is the worst. As Frederick Buechner (Wishful Thinking) observes: “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past ... to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you."
Anyone can get angry and all of us will. But lingering acrimony hurts everyone, especially those who pick away at it. And no anger management technique will work if we don’t finally make the decision to push away from the table and leave it all behind.
Healthy people know not to gorge on anger. At the end of the day, they walk away. They choose to end it. And it’s an easier choice the next time.
-- Steve Goodier
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