On controlling anger: first in a series

My wife has for a while now been leading a WeChat group called “100天不发火,” which literally means, “100 days without catching fire” but in this context means, “100 days without losing our tempers and screaming at people.” The members of the group are, generally speaking, people who consider themselves to have bad tempers, and who don’t want to lose their tempers and scream at spouses and children and co-workers. The group gets its name from the commitment made by every member at the time the group was formed: they would try to go a hundred days in a row without “catching fire.”

(My favorite story out of all this was shared by one of the ladies in the group, who said that about four days into the hundred, she had been doing very well…and then her five-year-old said wistfully, “Mommy, can you please go a hundred years without catching fire?”)

Now, Helen knows from hearsay that I was born with a genuinely fearsome temper, which is in fact a family trait (my great-grandfather was known to whip his children with barbed wire). I am fortunate in having wise and diligent parents, and so from very early childhood my parents concentrated on helping me learn to get that temper under control; and now when I mention to people that I have a bad temper they are frequently shocked. Only about once a year, these days, does the demon break loose. So Helen has seen that temper of mine in its full fury about three times — and has been absolutely terrified when she has seen it. (Though I will say that I have never resorted to violence, even at the height of rage.) But most of the time people see me as patient and easy-going and long-suffering, and the general attitude of most of my casual acquaintances is, “If you can’t get along with Kenny, you can’t get along with anybody.” That is not necessarily true, but it does at least indicate that my parents did their job well and their training was effective.

Well, Helen mentioned this to people in the group, and naturally their response was, “Get your husband to tell us how he does it!” Which would be fine, except…well, what works for me is not necessarily generally applicable, and also, you know, I don’t speak or write Chinese, and Helen has enough to do without having to translate lots of my English blatherings. But recently five of the ladies in the group who are reasonably bilingual have joined forces to assure me that they will help Helen with the translation so that it will not be a burden; and therefore I have started to write down my thoughts on anger and send it over to them.

It seems, after all, to be a good time to look back over the years at what has worked and what hasn’t, here as I come up on the half-century mark (I will be fifty the eighth of this November). And if I’m going to be writing it up for folks in China…well, it seems to me like I ought to at least make it available to my kids as well, and to anyone else who is interested.

I should say that I do not consider myself an expert on the subject in general, and to a certain extent “I don’t speak Chinese” was an excuse to keep myself from saying a bunch of things about anger that would turn out to be wrong, thereby making a braying ass of myself. So another reason for putting the thoughts on my blog, is to give anybody who wants to a chance to challenge me and tell me I’m wrong, or maybe partly wrong and partly right, or maybe what I’m saying is right as far as it goes but I’m leaving out something important.

So if you’re reading this, then feel free to disagree. You can slam me pretty hard in the comments without worrying about making me angry…I have, after all, lots of practice at controlling my temper. ;-)

TABLE OF CONTENTS (POSTS IN THIS SERIES PUBLISHED TO DATE)

  1. Solving the anger problem starts with understanding what the problem really is
  2. On the physical problem of anger
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