ANGER: FIRE OR ICE?

It doesn’t take much to anger some people. Even the most innocent comments can cause some tempers to flare. Innocuous situations can be misinterpreted leading to screaming matches, cursing, or physical altercations. In an instant, violence can erupt where calm once existed and destruction of property, injury to one’s person, or psychological damage can occur. Patience, understanding, forgiveness, and compassion are replaced by personal entitlement and arrogance.

Consider this: recently a friend of mine named Sara had an encounter in a store with a unfamiliar woman. The woman’s shopping cart was blocking the isle so Sara, not knowing who the cart belonged to, moved it to the side. The owner became irate shouting that Sara had no right to touch her cart and should have asked before moving it. While I consider this a reasonable request, I do object to her method of inquiry. The woman’s purse was in the cart and she stated her concerned that someone could have taken it to which Sara replied with an attitude, “If you’re so worried about your purse maybe you shouldn’t have left it in the cart and walked away!” The banter escalated into cursing at which point Sara’s friend, Karen, stepped up stating arrogantly that if Sara had been white the woman never would have treated her this way. Sara concluded by cursing the woman out and leaving.
There is so much about this situation that was unfortunate. Certainly, had the woman not left her cart unattended blocking the aisle, none of this would have transpired. However, had Sara posed a simple request for the owner to identify herself, this issue could have been easily resolved by the person moving said cart herself. Regardless of Sara’s actions, the woman’s irate response was extremely rude and uncalled for. Rather than trying to diffuse things, each continued to escalate the situation. Sara’s sarcastic retort resulted in a tirade of profanity. As if that were not enough, Karen added more fire by turning this into a racial incident. (There was no evidence what-so-ever that race was a factor.) More profanity spewed by Sara at the other woman before exiting the store finally brought this event to a close. Fortunately for everyone, it did not become physical, resulting in injury and/or possible arrest.

There are several reasons why people respond this way:

1. Entitlement Mindset: Those with a sense of entitlement feel as though they are above others; that ordinary rules of common courtesy don’t apply to them; and that if they have been wronged in the past they now have a free pass to walk around with a chip on their shoulder.

2. Responsibility Evaders: They fail to take personal responsibility. Sara was quick to point out the mistakes of the other woman without taking ownership for her own actions. If one person acts poorly it does not justify the other responding likewise. Remember the old adage: two wrongs don’t make a right. The fact that Karen turned this into a racial issue, when there was no indication it was, is additional proof that neither was holding themselves accountable for escalating the situation. Making this incident about skin color, of which Sara has no control, alleviates her of being responsible simply by default. (“I did not choose my skin color, therefore I’m not responsible for racial discrimination nor my reaction to it.”) This irrational thought process is invalid both in a legal sense as well as on a spiritual level.

3. Power Hungry: There are those who thrive on drama and the sense of power it affords them when they incite it. There is a sense of power and control over the incident and the individuals involved. They know how to push buttons and evoke the desired response. This is a form of bullying that results from low self-esteem and feelings of insecurity.

4. Justice Seekers: One who perceives that prejudice has occurred feels the need for immediate justice and to restore a sense of fairness and balance to the relationship. A bruised ego, one who takes personal offense to another person’s actions, is propelled into the “fight” mode as a means of self-protection.

In summary, in any given situation, we can act like accelerants and add more fuel to the already dangerous fire. Or we can be as ice, calming and soothing, preventing any damage from occurring.
Alternative Responses:

1. Always be polite and respectful towards others regardless of their behavior. Your actions are a reflection of who you are. Be authentic to your inherent nature – love.

2. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Someone may be having a bad day or misinterpreted something you said or did. Make allowances whenever possible and give others a chance to redeem themselves.

3. Acknowledge their feelings and experience. There experience is valid to them and without recognition it is very difficult to move forward peacefully. Everyone seeks validation.

4. Offer an apology for anything that may have offended the other person. An apology is a powerful tool illustrating one’s sensitivity to the other person’s feelings or situation. It is not always an admission of guilt as many believe.

5. Practice diffusing statements such as “I’d like to discuss this so we can get the issue resolved.” “If we could both remain calm that would be really helpful.” “I’m interested in what you have to say.”

6. Be sincere in your desire to resolve the issue quickly and to the satisfaction of all parties.

7. Whatever you say or do, make certain it emanates from a place of kindness, respect, concern, and fairness for all parties.

Even the most innocent situations can turn ugly in an instant. Each of us has the ability to accelerate a heated situation by adding more fire to it through inciteful words or threatening actions or arrogant attitudes. Or we can extinguish the flames by adding ice: sincerity, respect, helpful suggestions, accountability, and fairness.
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