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Advice to Myself as a Young Man: On Anger

Advice to Myself as a Young Man: On Anger
[This is a continuation of the theme I began in an earlier piece, Advice to Myself as a Young Man, in which I try to write to myself at the age of 15 and give advice to myself that I couldn’t hear 25 years ago, this time on the topic of anger.]

Dear Derek,

One thing that has been a constant presence in my life so far is my quickness to anger, and my tendency to let it get the best of me. And while I think it would be great to live in a world without anger, I don’t see it happening anytime soon, so the best we can do is learn to deal with our own reactions.

I didn’t do so well as a young man, but I hope that you can learn from my experience.

There will come a time in your life when you find yourself in the thrall of anger, seeing red and ready to let loose on somebody or something. At that moment, you have a choice.

Anger is a powerful servant, but a dangerous master.

It can rob you blind and set your world on fire in a heartbeat, but it can also serve you in a good way, if you know how to divert and channel it.

Anger closes off the heart, covers our ears, and tightens our body. It can cause us to speak rashly and to make snap decisions we’ll later regret. On the other hand, it can also spur us into action, and light a fire under our butts, causing us to step out of our comfort zone and step up to a challenge.

The difference is in the usage.

Does our anger use us? Or do we use it?

We have a choice about how or when or if we respond to something. Some circumstances require us to respond immediately, such as if someone takes a swing at us or a loved one. And some are not even worthy of our response, such as the sloppy drunk looking for his next target.

So when you find yourself at the sharp end of anger, there are a couple of really good questions to ask yourself before going all in:

  • Is this a life and death situation? Will someone (yourself included) be harmed if you don’t act? Sports, politics, and religion do not qualify, by any stretch of the imagination.
  • Is the cost of the battle worth it? If you react to this situation with anger, even ‘winning’, what will the cost to you be? For instance, it might seem like the right thing at the time to shout down your boss or teacher or a cop, but are you prepared for the fallout from it, such as losing a job or getting kicked out of school or spending some time behind bars?
  • How will I see this in the morning? If you walked away right now and revisited the situation after a night’s sleep, would it still be worth spending your energy on?
  • What would your momma say? If your mother was right beside you, what would she suggest? How about your father? Or your grandpa? Does that jive with who you are? If so, listen to them.
  • Where’s the door? Every adventure needs a good ending, planned into it from the beginning, and before you give in to anger and go too far down that road, do you have an exit?

Having said that, if you’ve made all the right choices but are still backed up against the wall, then by all means go down swinging.

But not because you’re angry. But because to roll over and submit would be the wrong choice.

[Image: darkpatator at Flickr]

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