Anger Management

If you cut yourself, would you A) put antibacterial cream on it immediately or B) wait until it gets infected then treat it?  I think we can agree that an ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure.

I love going to retreats or conventions and participating in workshops and small groups.  I took a Meyers/Briggs course twice and both times it was confirmed that I was an ENTP; very analytical, a problem solver, creative and capable of tackling each problem new and fresh every time.  I took an Enneagram too and scored a nine which is called “The Peacemaker.”  I once enrolled in an anger management course despite the fact that I couldn’t remember the last time I was actually angry but I went in hoping to learn something about myself and gain valuable insights and tools to use in every day life.

My mother was very much a Buddhist.  She had much love and respect for nature, food and people.  I have never seen her get angry although we kids did push her to the point of being perturbed a few times.  When we were belligerent children, she was always quick to defuse our anger and calmly instruct us to analyze our problems and seek solutions rather than fight or fester.  She would ask us how things made us feel and if those feelings had any effect on the desired outcome.  She would often steer us to the concept of impermanence and the destructive and escalating nature of anger.

I remember once while we were walking along the lake shore near our house where there were swallows flying near the surface of the water catching insects.  My mother said that anger is like the reflection of the bird. The reflection is not the bird, it has no control over the bird and the reflection is not permanent.  The only danger is if the bird gets too close to the reflection or, as I fantasized, a large mouth bass burst forth from the water surface and catch the bird in its mouth.  She taught me to let go of  anger just as easy as it is for the bird to fly away from its reflection, which would in turn disappear.  The reflection had no power unless the bird got too close to it.  That was one of many valuable lessons she imparted to me.  She also said that anger is like a hot coal you hold with the intention of throwing it at someone, but, you are the one who gets burned.

I don’t know if I took anger management too seriously or if I was not serious enough.  Every time the instructor gave us a situation to apply our anger management skills to, I always had an answer which would diffuse the narrative immediately. For instance, one of my scenarios was that I was about to pull in to a parking spot in a hospital parking lot and someone pulled up and took the spot which I was intending to occupy. I explained,
“I always park at the far end of the parking lot where there are always empty spaces.  That way my car is safe and I get exercise walking in.  That situation would never happen to me.”
The instructor then said,
“The parking lot is full and there is only one space left.”
I replied,
“Kudos to the person who was quicker than I.  I don’t own the spot and since I always allot extra time in all my travels so I can wait patiently for another spot to open.”
She said,
“You have an injured relative in the car.”
“I would drive up to the ER entrance and if it was so bad that we had to go to the ER we would be arriving by ambulance.”
I wasn’t trying to be difficult, just honest.

This went on time and again and none of the scenarios she presented were of any concern to me. What if someone cut me off on the highway, she asked?
“Maybe they didn’t know I was there.  I could have been in their blind spot.  Maybe they are a bad driver so I would put distance between us to protect them, me and peripheral drivers.”
On and on  it went.  The instructor even got angry at me a few times.

The instructor told us how she was once speeding down a highway and was cut off by a car which pulled out in front of her so she flashed her lights at him and laid on the horn.  The car in front of her slammed on his brakes in retaliation.  The road divided into two lanes at the stop light up ahead and the guy in front of her was turning right and she was going straight.  Side by side they yelled at each other and exchanged middle fingers.  When the light turned green and she moved forward and the guy originally intent upon turning right moved into her lane behind her and proceeded to follow her.  This is where she employed her anger management skills which she was trying to impart to us.  She took a deep breath, unclenched her fists, recognized her anger and made a u-turn to lose him in an attempt to avoid further conflict.  Frankly, I would not have laid on the horn in the first place and let bygones be bygones.  The above scenario would never have happened and we both would have ignorantly and calmly gone on our separate ways.

In most cases concerning conflict with other people, my mother always said this quote, “Forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” That is very true.  The guy in the aforementioned story probably didn’t intend to cut the instructor off.  He simply and quickly saw an opening and took it.  He misjudged her speed, and, if she wasn’t speeding in the first place, his spacial judgement probably would have been accurate, safe and uneventful.

When we get angry at someone who makes a mistake or does something which we feel hurts us, if we hold it against them, we mostly hurt ourselves and our relationship with them.   I value relationships more than differences and strive to heal, accommodate and do no harm.  Although I do admit that at times I am a master at the art of passive aggressiveness but that is fodder for another blog.  If someone is angry at me and there is nothing I can fix, I just let them have their anger.

At the end of the course, the instructor gave us a written assessment of our participation.  Mine simply said,  “Malcolm has anger issues.”

THAT, made me downright . . . giddy.  My mother did not have a PhD and she knew so much more than this instructor.  My mother also used to say “When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  I forgive the instructor for her “protests too much” assessment and for being a hammer.  It is not her fault she was not raised to deal with anger prevention until it presented itself and she needed to employ anger management.

So, the next time you cut yourself will you A) put antibacterial cream on it immediately or B) wait until it gets infected then treat it?  I think we can agree that an ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure.


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