Do you get angry easily? Do you often feel like you could just chew nails and spit them at someone?
Even if you don’t anger easily, do you sometimes feel it build up and boil over unexpectedly?
I’m no psychiatrist or psychologist, but I’d hazard a guess that most of us have been there, done that.
I know I have.
For the most part, I try to remain calm and cool-headed, even when something happens that could easily cause an outburst. You know, like when your kid wrecks the third car in three years.
I don’t like being angry. It’s a waste of energy.
And people at the top of the earth agree with me.
Listening to NPR recently, I heard a reporter talking about life with the Inuit people somewhere around the Arctic Circle. The discussion included ideas about raising children.
An audio clip was played in which an Inuit woman, or perhaps someone translating for her, said “Anger has no place. Anger serves no purpose, for anyone.”
She described scenarios in which some people might get angry, and offered an alternative reaction that does not include anger. It sounded like she was suggesting a “So what?” response.
For instance, when someone knocked over a boiling pot of tea and damaged the igloo floor, no one got mad. The offender calmly refilled the teapot and carried on with the task.
To train children to control their anger, parents use playful stories and act out scenarios. There is scolding, no raised voices.
Parents pass down the stories told them by their parents and grandparents. They often include silly “monsters” that might take the children to another family if they get too close to the water’s edge, or grab them when they don’t ask before reaching for food.
The Inuit style of parenting is said to be among the gentlest in the world. They believe that yelling at a small child is demeaning, and that a screaming parent is seen as the one having a tantrum.
I started to understand what they mean. I’ve seen plenty of adults having tantrums, thinking they are disciplining their children.
Apparently, it is a long-held belief in the Inuit culture that a better reaction is to simply overlook the slight, or bad behavior, or to acknowledge it with a glance and move on.
Two weeks after the Inuit parenting lesson, I was listening to NPR again and heard part of a conversation with a Catholic nun. She was speaking about reported abuse from priests in the Catholic church. She said she thinks people should get angry, as long as they put their anger to good use.
It is right to be outraged in these cases, she said, but let’s use the strength of that emotion to do something positive to stop it from happening again.
I thought it odd that I happened to hear two stories about anger on the same radio station within a short time. I later discovered that NPR has produced a special series on the topic. “The Other Side of Anger” explores “what we can learn from this powerful emotion.”
One segment suggests that to control anger, we could consider giving it a name. Anger is thought by some to be not just one emotion, but rather a whole “family” of emotions.
A psychologist suggests getting to know the entire family. These kinds of anger can be associated with sadness, regret, disappointment, even hate toward others or oneself.
The point I’ve learned is that there’s more to anger than screaming at someone. There’s something below our surface that triggers it. The key to controlling it is to understand what it is and address it appropriately.