That “short-lived madness”

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” – Mark Twain

It’s not easy to lose your temper if and when you are angry.  And it is always after storm that you see how bad the devastation really is.

When I left for Davao last month, I told one of my sisters to send me a message if ever she would receive a letter addressed to me.  I was expecting to get a letter of invitation from one of my sponsors to attend an international conference.  I told her three times and each time she answered affirmatively.

While in Davao, I was waiting a message from her.  But there was none.   Three days later, when I returned home, I saw the letter in my desk.  I opened it and was dismayed to know that I had to submit the form a day earlier.  I talked with my sister and she told me she forgot to tell me that the letter arrived that day when I left for Davao.  Had she called me or sent me a message; I would have submitted the form on time.  Her “I’m sorry” did not appease my anger towards her.

(I wasn’t able to attend the conference, if you want to know.)

For two days, that I was what I felt.  Then, I was reminded of the statement of American fiction writer Louis L’Armour: “Anger is a killing thing:  it kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than he had been before – it takes something from him.” Roman lyric poet Horace likens anger to “short-lived madness.”

Elizabeth Kenny, the famed Australian nurse and originator of the Kenny method of polio treatment, was once asked by a close friend on how she managed to stay so constantly cheerful.  “I suppose you were just born calm and smiling,” the friend said.

“Oh, no,” the nurse laughed.  “As a girl, my temper often got out of bounds.  But one day, when I became angry at a friend over some trivial matter, my mother gave me the counsel that I have since stored in my mind, and have called upon for guidance ever since.  She said, ‘Elizabeth, anyone who angers you, conquers you.’”

The words of Mitch Albom come to mind: “Learn this from me.  Holding anger is a poison.  It east you from inside.  We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us.  But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves.”

There are several ways of conquering anger without really trying.  Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, had some trouble with a major general who accused him in abusive language of favoritism.  Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that he write the officer a sharp letter.  Stanton did so, and showed the strongly-worded memorandum to the president, who praised its powerful language.  “What are you doing to do with it?” the American president asked.

Surprised at the question, Stanton replied, “Why, send it, of course.”  Lincoln’s answer even surprised Stanton more: “No, you don’t want to send that letter.  Put it in the stove.  That’s what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry.  It’s a good letter and you had a good time writing it, and now you feel better.  Now, burn it and write another.”

The words of American writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard came to my mind, too: “When a man sends you an impudent letter, sit right down and give it back to him with interest ten times compounded, and then throw both letters in the wastebasket.”

If you are angry, count not just one to ten, but may a hundred times.  If you do that, the anger will subside and you may save yourself – and that of the person who will receive your wrath – from more harms.  

“I lose my temper, but it’s all over in a minute,” a student told George Sweeting. “So is the hydrogen bomb,” the president of the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago replied.  “But think of the damage it produces.” 

Greek philosopher Socrates told a story that when he was still a boy, he chanced upon a man who was trying to unlock a door.  The key would not work.  The fellow bit the key and kicked the door.  It opened.  Then and there, the youthful thinker made up his mind never to give way to anger.

And it worked – years later.  One day, his very critical complaining wife Xanthippe, tongue lashed him for some trivial matter.  And as he was walking away from her, she threw a pail of water at him.  Instead of getting angry at her, he dismissed philosophically, “Well, after thunder, we usually do get a shower, don’t we?”

James Seals, author of Anger, has this to say: “When we talk about anger management, we are talking about how you control your emotional and physiological responses to situations that cause anger.  You cannot avoid these situations and you cannot avoid becoming angry at times; that is only natural.  However, you can learn to control how you react.”

But how?  Marge Power, the woman behind Anger: What’s Up With That?, shares this tip: “When you feel anger beginning to build up inside of you, let your whole body droop and relax to the best of your ability while beginning to breathe slowly from the diaphragm.  Breathing in this way helps to calm both the body and the mind which leads to letting go of anger before it takes a hold.”

Dianne Kane, of Anger Management distinction, offers this idea: “The next time you feel anger rising in you, create a distance with yourself.  Dissolve the ‘I’ that has got offended and you will see that all the signs of anger will disappear.”

Conquer your anger but if you can’t here’s a reminder from the Bible.  The Holy Bible states, “In your anger, do not sin,” it says.  “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26).  Proverb 16:32 reiterated, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that controls his temper is better than someone who takes a city.”