If I told you that there was one simple word that could prevent anger from arising would you be interested in discovering what that word is? Or in the event that anger showed up without warning, this same word could easily subdue it and restore your sense of calm? Would you utilize this information to create a happier life for yourself? Of course you would! Well, there is one simple magic word that can do just that, and the word is “WHY”.
People often get angry without a deep understanding of the cause. Some have short fuses and every small incident seems to irritate them. In areas where the average person might not give the event a second thought, others fly off the handle. When asked why they are angry, oftentimes they have no rational explanation. “I don’t know – some things just bother me a lot.” In the case of observing another person become upset over something we deem to be a non issue, we may make such statements as, “You’re acting like a fool!” or “You have no reason to be angry.”
Ours is an angry planet and sadly, not only do people refuse to take responsibility for their ire, but in many instances fail to have to clear understanding of why the anger emerged initially. Taking a moment to inquire “Why” from different perspectives can truly be enlightening by providing much insight into one’s feelings and underlying issues behind the rage. Consider the following scenarios where “why” can neutralize or prevent anger from manifesting.
Dealing with one’s own anger:
Imagine you’re in a situation that triggers your anger. You ordered a gift for your husband’s birthday making sure there was ample time for it to arrive by his special day. However, the package was a week late and when you opened it you realized they had send the wrong item. You are livid and immediately call customer service, proceeding to rant on the woman hired to assist you. Even one who’s trained and paid to deal with irate customers is not deserving of your wrath. She assures you that the correct item will be mailed promptly and offers to send you a return shipping label to make the return process easier for you. For your inconvenience, she is authorized to give you a 10% gift certificate off of your next purchase. Your anger begins to subside as you offer her an apology for your rudeness. Damage done and corrected. However, wouldn’t it have been wiser to not become so agitated from the get go?
By utilizing the “why” question, one can avoid an angry outburst such as described. Upon the first inkling of annoyance, stop and ask yourself, “Why am I so upset? Why am I allowing this relatively insignificant incident to cause me so much grief?” The answers might be something like, “This company/worker is inept. This is no way to run a business. I am frustrated and feel that as a paying customer they don’t value my business. That’s rude and disrespectful of me and that makes me mad!”
The why challenges me to look within myself for the answers rather than blame others and hold them accountable for how I feel. Are my feelings valid? Are my perceptions of the company/workers fair and reasonable? Are my expectations (of perfection on their part) unrealistic? Am I being too harsh and judgmental? What does my anger afford me? Do I think I need it in order to rectify the situation? Can I achieve the same results or better by taking a different approach, perhaps one of logic and reason?
Authentic power comes from one’s ability and willingness to look at themselves, to question their feelings, actions, motives, objectives, etc. The why begins the process of self-awareness and self-awareness is the beginning of personal growth. This process may reveal that I am being unfair in my expectations and assessments of those involved, that I am demanding too much. Or perhaps I’m too sensitive and take things personally when in reality I was not being targeted by anyone. My willingness to make the necessary adjustments will diffuse my current anger and prevent it from manifesting in similar future situations.
Dealing with an angry person (as an observer):
If you are dealing with someone who is outraged over an incident that does not involve you, asking the why question can help them come to a deeper understanding of precisely why they are reacting to said event with anger. Similar in nature to the questions one asks themselves, begin by asking why are they upset? Why do they allow this incident to become problematic for them? Does it change the situation? Will it make things better for them? What’s fascinating about questioning others rather than telling them what to do (“Don’t be angry!”) is that it challenges them to discover their truth on their own. Most people do not respond well to others who impose demands or suggestions on them. However, when one comes to this realization of their own volition, the impact is far greater and more meaningful. Again, challenging them to think about their feelings and the why behind them enables them to better understand themselves, examine if their response is warranted and advantageous for them and those around them, and to possibly make wiser choices in the moment or in the future.
Here’s an example: Recently my friend took her dog to the vet for an unusual skin infection. The vet diagnosed it and ordered a treatment plan. Since it was highly contagious, my friend needed treatment as well. Wanting to ensure that the procedure was meticulously carried out, she inquired as to how long the healing process would take, when she and her dog would no longer be contagious, and if there was a chance of a reoccurrence. The doctor was unable to give precise answers cue to the nature of the condition but did so in more generalized terms. She became furious and demanded more specifics which he could not supply. I inquired of her, “Why is this an issue for you? Why did you speak to him that? Why did you react that way? Why do you feel the way you do?”
She confided that she was scared that the condition would not be resolved within a reasonable period of time and that she or her pet could possible infect others if still contagious. She also worried that if the infection returned, it would cause more damage to their health and add to her already high expenses.
Having a deeper understanding of her why’s, her fears and sense of powerlessness, we were able to look more closely at them and find somewhat reasonable solutions for each. We contact another vet, did research online, and contacted the drug manufactures. In doing so, she felt more in control of her health and her pet’s and subsequently her anger subsided. She began to trust that as time progressed answers would become more apparent and that not everything could be revealed at the precise time she desired. She overcame her fear by building trust (in herself and her vet) and patience in the process. She’ll be able to reference this process in future circumstances.
Dealing with an angry person (if you are a target):
There are times when each of us has been the target of someone else’s anger. At times, we are aware that we may have said or done something inappropriate that preceded their reaction. I may have been late meeting my sister at the restaurant for dinner or perhaps I shared one of her secrets with a coworker when she had specifically instructed me to keep the information confidential. There are also incidences where we are clueless as to why their anger is being directed at us. In any event, the why question can bring greater clarity to the situation.
“Why are you angry with me? Is there something I said or did that offended you?” “Why did you react that way when I told you I couldn’t help you move on Saturday?” “Why is my attitude a problem for you?” “Why does the way I live my life bother you?” Be forewarned, that if you ask a question you must be willing to listen to the answer, even if you don’t understand or agree with it.
Without the why it is easy to become defensive when someone is angry with us or when we see them acting out in a hostile manner. Why provides an understanding of what caused the anger to surface and understanding opens the door to compassion. When I realize that the other party is worried about the safety of their child and are emotionally drained, then it comes as no surprise that they have little tolerance for any distractions. When one imposes their anger on me and through the why I come to realize that this is all they know from growing up in a home with parents who used yelling and threats as a means of communication and discipline, then I understand that they are only utilizing what they have learned. Practicing patience with them while they discover a more appropriate way of expressing themselves makes our relationship tolerable.
If you are a child being told by your parents that you cannot do something you’d like to do, asking why can better help you to understand the motives behind their response. Perhaps the situation is too dangerous or there isn’t enough time or money to do so. Disappointment may remain but anger will be less likely to surface. If your child behaves in a way that you find appalling, a simple, “Why did you do that?” rather than responding with an angry “You’re grounded!” can provide insights into your child’s thought process, helping to provide clarity behind their actions. This can be a catalyst for a meaningful discussion.
Likewise, when our political or church leaders make decisions that impact us that we are not in agreement with, oftentimes we react with outrage. However, inquiring why can better help us understand the reasoning behind their actions. We may still not agree with their decisions but may better understand their rationale for doing so. And in some cases, their response can provide an open debate to ultimately find better solutions.
In any event, why is a powerful and wise response to anger in general. As I previously stated, why provides understanding and understanding leads to compassion – a perfect means to neutralize anger.
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