Take-Home Message: Master your emotions or they will surely master you.
Writer’s Note: This topic was inspired by personal readings from two of the great Stoics, Marcus Aurelis and Epictetus.
“When is the last time you lost your temper?”
I was posed that question in an interview during my senior year of college and I had no idea how to answer it. To this day, I can only guess what the interviewer’s definition of a right answer would have been. But, it most certainly was not mine. I replied, “I can’t remember.” Like I was some kind of saint or something.
My response might have been a sick result from years of cultural indoctrination suggesting that getting mad is all wrong. From what I knew about the interviewer, I was guessing he wanted to hear me say how anger is bad, happiness is good, blah, blah, blah, unicorns shit rainbows. What a moron I was.
I’m sure he was thinking quietly to himself, “This kid is full of shit.” Everyone with a pulse gets mad. Or, at least, I think we should. Man, did I botch my answer.
I failed to respond honestly based upon what I thought on the matter. And here’s what that is: I do not think anger is inherently bad. I believe it to be a rational response most of the time. What makes it bad, though, is when it goes unaddressed. When it’s allowed to fester.
Each time it’s allowed to do this, it is like pulling the pin and clenching a grenade. And then, when something else happens, and it goes unaddressed yet again, it’s like pulling another pin, and filling both hands. What happens after a while is that there’s this walking, ticking time bomb, just waiting for someone to add another grenade to the stockpile so it can go nuclear. This is an unhealthy practice to say the least.
This afternoon, a colleague and I discussed this very topic. I confided in him about the tendency I have to allow things that piss me off to fester, and how I want to master it. I want to be a zen master when it comes to this, and not allow other people to rain on my parade. Why should I, anyway?
He had a simple suggestion for how he deals with moments such as these. “Allow yourself to get mad. And then let it go.” He said it’s a practice that he uses to address the inevitable and to move on about his life without it affecting his day. Just find some way to vent and don’t explode on anyone.
I couldn’t agree with him more. This negative energy needs to be explored and channeled. It needs to be released in a healthy way. This could be going to the gym, or yelling into a pillow. It could mean calling up a friend or sibling. It could mean hitting a punching bag, but for the love of all things good, don’t hit the person who’s irritated you.
So, with that suggestion in mind, I’m going to continue working more on becoming the master of my own life. I’m going to consider everyone as neutral. What they say and do is their business, and how I respond is mine. If they irritate the living stew out of me, so be it, I’ll go pick up something heavy and set it back down. But, I won’t lash out, and I won’t let it ruin my day. And most importantly, I’ll stop being afraid to get angry.