Young People Ask . . .
How Do I Deal With Angry People?
“He was raging mad. I guess because he saw that I was little, he wanted to beat me up. As I was backing away, I said: ‘Hold on for a second! Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Why do you want to beat me up? I haven’t done anything to you. I don’t even know what you are mad about. Can we talk about it?’”—16-year-old David.
HAVE you ever been the target of a bully’s rage? The Bible predicted that people today would be “fierce, without love of goodness.” (2 Timothy 3:3) And while you may have done all you can to avoid “companionship with anyone given to anger . . . , having fits of rage,” there may be times when you simply cannot escape angry people. (Proverbs 22:24) How should you respond when you find yourself in such a situation?
Responding to Rage
Today many youths might respond by displaying rage of their own. But doing so simply causes more pain. Furthermore, losing your own control would bring you down to the level of the one raging. Proverbs 26:4 says: “Do not answer anyone stupid according to his foolishness, that you yourself also may not become equal to him.” Young Jeremy learned the truth of these words the hard way. He recalls sitting at the lunch table in school: “There was a group of boys that would always make fun of one another and other people. Very often they would talk about me. I generally ignored their talk. However, when one of them started talking about my mother, I lost control and flew at him in a fit of anger.” The result? “He beat me up good,” says Jeremy.
The Bible gives this wise advice: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Proverbs 15:1) Yes, responding to anger with “a word causing pain” only aggravates the situation. However, a mild reply can often calm things down and defuse a tense situation.
Recall David, mentioned at the outset. He was able to talk the bully into explaining why he was angry. It turned out that someone had stolen the bully’s lunch, and he was simply taking out his frustration on the first person who came his way. “Beating me up is not going to replace your lunch,” David reasoned. He then suggested that they both go over to the cafeteria. “Since I knew the clerk there,” recalls David, “I was able to replace his lunch. He shook my hand, and he was friendly to me after that.” Do you see how powerful mild words can be? As a proverb puts it, “a mild tongue itself can break a bone.”—Proverbs 25:15.
Mildness—Weakness or Strength?
Granted, the idea of having “a mild tongue” may not sound appealing. It may seem more tough or macho to fight anger with anger. You may even fear that if you are mild, others will think you are really weak. But just what does it mean to be mild? According to one reference work, to be mild means to be gentle. However, this same source adds: “Behind the gentleness there is the strength of steel.” Thus, far from being a sign of weakness, mildness can be a sign of strength. How so?
Well, for one thing, a mild-tempered person is in control and is not easily thrown off balance. On the other hand, a person who lacks mildness seems insecure, frustrated, or even desperate. He also lacks self-control. Unable to control his emotions, he is likely to find himself being repeatedly drawn into conflicts. Yes, “as a city broken through, without a wall, is the man that has no restraint for his spirit.” (Proverbs 25:28) Really, then, it is the mild-tempered person who is strong!
Bible Examples of Mildness
Consider Jesus Christ. He described himself as “mild-tempered and lowly in heart.” (Matthew 11:29) He never became harsh or unreasonable, paying back injury for injury. In fact, the apostle Peter, a personal friend of Jesus’, reported: “When [Jesus] was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening, but kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23) Remember, though, that this same Jesus “entered into the temple and threw out all those selling and buying.” (Matthew 21:12) And had the need ever arisen for divine backing, Jesus could have called on “more than twelve legions of angels”! (Matthew 26:53) No, he was hardly a weakling.
Consider also the example that Judge Gideon set, as recorded in the Bible at Judges 8:1-3. After a great military victory, some soldiers from the tribe of Ephraim were offended because they felt that they had not been given a chance to share in the glory of battle. “What sort of thing is this that you have done to us in not calling us when you went to fight against Midian?” they challenged. “And they vehemently tried to pick a quarrel with him.” Now Gideon was a “valiant, mighty one.” (Judges 6:12) He could easily have responded to their provocation with violence. Instead, he gave a mild response that totally disarmed those hotheads. “What now have I done in comparison with you?” asked Gideon. The result of this modest response? “Their spirit calmed down toward him.”
Finally, consider the Bible’s account of a woman named Abigail. David was hiding as a fugitive from his enemy Saul, the king of Israel. Though suffering exile, David’s men often guarded and protected their fellow Israelites. One man whom they helped was Abigail’s husband, Nabal, a very wealthy man. However, Nabal was “harsh and bad in his practices.” When David’s men needed provisions, they asked Nabal for some food. Instead of expressing appreciation for the free protection given him by David’s band, Nabal “screamed rebukes” at David’s messengers and sent them away empty-handed.—1 Samuel 25:2-11, 14.
On hearing of this, David became angry and ordered his men: “Gird on every one his sword!” David and his men were on their way to kill Nabal and all the innocent male members of his household when Abigail intervened. She greeted David with a generous gift of food and drink. She apologized for her husband’s inexcusable conduct and begged David to spare innocent lives.—1 Samuel 25:13, 18-31.
Abigail’s humble pleas turned back David’s anger. Indeed, realizing how dangerous his anger had become, David said: “Blessed be Jehovah the God of Israel, who has sent you this day to meet me! And blessed be your sensibleness, and blessed be you who have restrained me this day from entering into bloodguilt and having my own hand come to my salvation.” (1 Samuel 25:32-35) Yes, in many cases ‘an answer when mild’ can turn away the rage of others. However, what if your mild answer does not have that effect?
“Take Your Leave”
You can avoid adding fuel to a raging fire by simply walking away. “Where there is no wood the fire goes out,” the Bible says. It also advises: “Before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.” (Proverbs 17:14; 26:20) “A popular boy in school came up to me and wanted to talk,” said 17-year-old Merissa. “He told me that I was pretty. Before I knew it, his girlfriend came up to me raging mad. She accused me of flirting with her boyfriend and wanted to fight me! I tried to explain what happened, but she wouldn’t listen. After school she returned with some other girls to beat me up! I quickly got the security guard, and I explained to the angry girl that I do not fight and that it was her boyfriend who had come up to me. After that I walked away.” Merissa did not give in to her emotions. She not only walked away from a fight but also took steps to protect herself. As Proverbs 17:27 says, “anyone holding back his sayings is possessed of knowledge, and a man of discernment is cool of spirit.”
What, though, if you are really to blame for having provoked someone to anger—perhaps unintentionally? Apologize, and do it quickly! This may be all that it takes to turn away the rage of the other person. These are pressure-filled times, and many people are quick-tempered. But if you apply Bible principles in your dealings, you can likely avoid becoming a victim of someone’s rage.
[Pictures on page 24]
“An answer, when mild, turns away rage”
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Sometimes you just have to walk away