This morning, as I sat in a traffic jam, I could not help observing two women arguing violently in the car in front of me.
They must have been sisters though they looked very different. Both were screaming into the other’s face. The one in the passenger’s seat, a pretty 20-something, then walked out to confront the traffic. Immediately, the other girl called her on the mobile, and I could see from the side-view mirror that she was still screaming into the phone. The one who’d walked out picked up her mobile, but shut it soon. The one in the car burst out coughing (or was it crying?); it seemed like there were tears in her eyes.
Just then the serpentine car queue moved and I lost track of them.
Observing this display of anger mismanagement, I decided to look back and see how far I’d come myself in this department:
(1) A few days ago, an irate business associate called. He had already flown off the lid in a previous conversation with a junior colleague of mine. I decided not to take anything he said personally. I was calm, almost resigned, in my tone. I accepted all his rants and apologised for any error on our behalf. After yelling continuously for about eight minutes, he lost his steam when he realised I wasn’t arguing back. He then acquiesced and gave in to a compromise.
(2) Two nights ago, I came home late after a furiously busy day at work. The first thing I noticed was the unkempt living room – there were books lying about, clothes on the sofas, shoes splayed across the floor. An old response kicked in, and I hollered at the kids. Thankfully, they didn’t fight back; instead, the younger one coolly said, “Mom, you’re frustrated about something else but taking it out on us.” I realised the value in her words, went to the bathroom and forced myself to smile at myself in the mirror. The anger vanished and I emerged calmer.
Another night, we went out to dinner, but due to parking issues, we weren’t able to go to our choice of restaurant. I was irritable, and the kids began to argue on where to go. Seeing all this, my partner was deeply disturbed but (unlike the three of us who were vociferously talking it out and making the most of our dinner despite the disappointment) he held the irritation to himself and went without food the whole evening. The next morning, he had a terrible cramp while doing yoga, and has been home since, nursing a back pain for the first time in his life. My elder one (who sometimes acts as if she is 50 years old) advised him on ‘not holding on to suppressed negativities within him’. He laughed at her ‘words of wisdom’, but I could see that he was thoughtful.
There’s anger all around us, within us, and it cannot be ignored. Like fire, it can either be used for a productive purpose (cooking) or for a destructive one (arson). We have to find techniques of dealing with anger without scorching our own selves – to turn on the flame only when required, and to turn it off as soon as its purpose is solved. As long as it teaches us that, even the most frustrating and maddening events are necessary. If only to make for a success story later.