Did you ever get denied an empty seat taken by a “ghost”? Or open doors for strangers who soak you with love or sock you with anger? Whatever the woe, tame that temper.
Take scenario one—love:
As I walked past a storefront, a middle-aged woman appeared in the parking lot. Her shoulders slouched. Her strides plunked side-to-side heavy as elephants. Her face studied the pavement, lost in worries.
So, I held the door open, smiled, and waited for her anguished, slow arrival. When she looked up at me, her face brightened. “Is that for me?” she asked as we shared laughter.
As I shut the door behind her, her eyes widened. “Aren’t you coming in?” she asked. I shook my head and smiled warmly. The door was just for her.
Compare that with scenario two—anger:
A woman and I neared a McDonald’s entrance—her a meter south, me a meter east. “I’ll hold the door open for her,” I thought, pleased. So, I broke into a jog. The woman’s face fired-up rage, and she raced me to the door, readying to brawl. I swung the door open last minute, smiled, and said, “After you.” I was no threat to her place in line: I came to use the lady’s room.
Compare that with scenario three—more anger:
I smiled and politely asked a woman if the seat beside her was taken. She rolled her eyes and growled, “Yes, a ghost’s sitting here. Are you stupid?” She unloaded at length. I felt awful the full day, infected by anger.
So, what did we all need? Compassion. Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky show how to compassionately control anger in their book Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think:
- What does anger look like? “Shakiness, muscle tension, clenched jaw, chest pressure, yelling, clenched fists, and saying things that are not true” (p. 260-261).
- And what happens in the headspace of angry people? “Our thoughts are often filled with plans for retaliation or ‘getting even,’ or we focus on how ‘unfairly’ we have been treated” (p. 255).
- So, how do you manage anger? Compassion. “Learn to interpret other people’s actions less personally, to consider the intentions of other people in a kinder way, and to look at situations from different perspectives…” (p. 259).
- Yes, compassion controls anger: “Accept that the person who hurt us is troubled or has his or her own issues to work out” (p. 263).
- Also, “try to be a nonjudgmental observer and get more information, so you can test your assumptions about other people’s intentions” (p. 259).
- Plus, take time outs to stop from raging: “Use timeouts as athletes do: to regroup, strategize, relax, or simply rest” (p. 261).
- Also, act assertively to manage anger: “acknowledge any truth in someone’s complaints about you, and at the same time stand up for your own rights…” (p. 262).
- Lastly, learn to forgive: “Forgiveness often begins with a compassionate understanding of person who have hurt you. Write about any life experiences the other person or person had that might have contributed to the ways they hurt or mistreated you” (p. 265).
- But beware: the need to protect yourself may override your wish to forgive: “Sometimes we may decide not to forgive someone, such as when someone continues abusing us or those we care about. In this case, the only way to let go of anger may be to accept that the other person is abusive, be clear in our own minds that we are not to blame, and figure out ways to protect ourselves from future abuse” (p. 263).
The gift of compassion mends heartaches, even if just our own. In the scenarios above, that ghost may have marked that lady’s loneliness; that McDonald’s lady may bear a barrage of battle scars; that worried woman may have felt my love behind the door.
So, when others hurt us, or when we hurt others, learn to forgive through compassion.