Coping With a Burst of Anger
THE subway train screeched as it slowed to enter the station. Two male riders exchanged words in a brief argument. Another man, of foreign extraction, interrupted, saying, “Shut up.” One of the arguers retorted: “Go back to your own country.” “You want me to make you [shut up]?” was the intimidating response from the 21-year-old foreign visitor. Now enraged, the man retorted: “You go right ahead—you’re a chump.” These were his last words, as the visitor whipped out a gun and, before the horrified eyes of dozens of subway riders, fired four shots into the man, killing him instantly. “Now you’ll shut up,” the young man said as he stepped out of the car and was arrested.
This incident illustrates one way of responding when one is angered. But what tragic results for both men!
Have there not been times when you were faced with biting remarks, perhaps even a verbal barrage delivered in a burst of anger? How did you respond? What is the best way to deal with such a situation? Is it, “Fight fire with fire”? There are those who feel as one editorial declared, “Why It’s Good to Get Good and Mad.”
A true-life story of an ancient monarch tells us of another way to deal with such outbursts. But at the very outset we might wonder whether it is a practical one in this age of violence.
King David of Israel and his entourage were fleeing for their very lives from his son who had just usurped the throne. They were suddenly confronted by Shimei, a descendant of King Saul. Shimei screamed:
“Get out, get out, you bloodguilty man and good-for-nothing man! Jehovah has brought back upon you all the bloodguilt for the house of Saul in place of whom you have ruled as king; and Jehovah gives the kingship into the hand of Absalom your son. And here you are in your calamity, because you are a bloodguilty man!”—2 Sam. 16:7, 8.
What a hateful outburst! And in the face of the king himself! So how would David cope with these fighting words? His military commander pleaded: ‘Let me go over and cut off his head.’
How would you have responded? Remember, here the man David was pressed to the limit. His people’s hearts had just been stolen from him. His son had turned traitor. His counselors had deserted him. He had lost his kingdom and now was being mocked and cursed! To be called a “good-for-nothing man” (“man of Belial” [Authorized Version]—a term that eventually was applied to the Devil) was the highest insult, for it meant a person of the lowest sort. David’s response, however, was simply:
“Thus let him call down evil, because Jehovah himself has said to him, ‘Call down evil upon David!’ So who should say, ‘Why did you do that way?’ . . . Let him alone . . . Perhaps Jehovah will see with his eye, and Jehovah will actually restore to me goodness instead of his malediction this day.”—2 Sam. 16:10-12.
David refused to respond with a verbal outburst, but uttered a mild reply. The results? First of all, no blood was shed. Then when David was restored to his kingship, who was among the first to greet him, to apologize and beg forgiveness? That’s right. Shimei.—2 Sam. 19:16-23.
‘But that was over 3,000 years ago,’ some will contend. ‘Times are different now. Be aggressive or people will walk on you. To answer mildly sounds nice, but it won’t help you today.’
However, this is not what knowledgeable people say. Note the following advice:
“If selfish people try to take advantage of you, cross them off your list, but don’t try to get even. When you try to get even, you hurt yourself more than you hurt the other fellow.”—Bulletin in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, police station. [Italics ours.]
“The expression ‘I was so mad I could have died’ has a serious literal meaning, in the view of [a] psychiatrist [who] thinks ‘anger’ might well be listed as the cause of death in many cases, particularly among younger people.”—Family Health. [Italics ours.]
“Cardiologists have known for years that anger is one of the most lethal of all emotions. Heart attacks and strokes have often been preceded by an episode of severe emotional stress.”—New York Sunday News. [Italics ours.]
So the course pursued by David is recognized as practical. But how can you follow it? It is easy to talk about a ‘mild answer’ when nothing is irritating you and all is calm. What can be done when there is a confrontation?—Prov. 15:1.
By saying “Jehovah himself has said to him, ‘Call down evil,’” David acknowledged that he had sinned and was worthy of such chastening. However, he was not guilty of Shimei’s false charge (bloodguilt in connection with the house of Saul), for David had gone out of his way to avoid killing Saul. (1 Sam. 24:1-7; 26:7-11) Nonetheless, David had committed a sin with consequences such as this and was cognizant of his own guilt before God. (2 Sam. 12:10, 11) As one Bible commentator put it: “A humble, tender spirit will turn reproaches into reproofs, and so get good by them, instead of being provoked by them.”
Humility and our being aware that perhaps there could be a grain of truth in what our opponent may be saying, coupled with genuine consciousness of our own shortcomings, can keep us calm. If the accusation is totally baseless, as was Shimei’s, then recall that God’s view of us is far superior to the narrow opinions of others.
Because of our imperfection, there are times when we may become angered by another’s remarks. But do not despair. Even first-century Christian overseers once exchanged “a sharp burst of anger.” Yet, rather than cherish resentment, they solved the problem by appropriate action. (Acts 15:36-39) So can you. Sometimes physical activity can be an immediate help. No, do not do as one writer recommended: “Break pencils, go in the [rest] room and kick all the doors.” Rather, take a walk, throw a ball around or work in the garden.—Jas. 3:2.
David’s advice in Psalm 37:8 is: “Let anger alone and leave rage; do not show yourself heated up only to do evil.” Are there people today who endeavor to follow such good counsel? The experience of a man in the Fiji Islands—a person who violently opposed his wife’s studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses—gives an affirmative answer. He did everything from beating his wife and throwing her out on the street to disrupting a large gathering of Witnesses. Out of curiosity, he finally decided to attend one of their local meetings. He said:
“I was in great trepidation as to what reception the Witnesses would give me due to my treating them so shamefully before. This struck me: These people were kind to me without resentment. . . . the brother whom I had treated the worst of all offered me [a personal Bible study] and I accepted. Now I understand Jehovah’s great forgiveness for my maltreatment of his people and my wife.”
Now, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, this man is cultivating the fruitage of God’s spirit, including peace, long-suffering, kindness, mildness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22, 23) Indeed, developing such qualities is the best way to cope with outbursts of anger.