When you take a look around the internet or listen to the news, it seems that everyone has a legitimate reason, or two, to be angry these days. The left is mad, the right is mad, people in the middle are mad and those checked out are mad.
We have recalls on food that piss us off, a global crisis in the Gulf that enrages us, a financial climate of plunging home values, lost retirement funds and millions of lost jobs and of course, there is the anniversary of 9/11 that really sends some people over the moon. While all of these things can be justified as "real" reasons to invoke anger, the question I keep grappling with is, is our anger doing any good?
Over the past 20 years, it seems that our anger has reached a boiling point and I'm wondering how we can reel it back to a more reasonable place. Not sure what I mean? Try talking to anyone about politics that has an opposing view to your own. Is it a debate? A conversation? Do either of you really listen? Could you say at the end of the chat what their reasonable arguments are even if you don't agree with them? I have to wonder.
The last 20 years of politics has been quite tough on the American people. We've had serious debates about what is right and wrong and all of it is available in mainstream media so anyone interested can participate. This exceptional change has enriched us all. For those of us engaged, it has changed the climate of the family dinner table conversation and larger conversations with friends and family. Problem is, we don't all agree.
Certainly, I don't want to debate here what is right or wrong about today's political climate. The question worth asking is, "What impact is all of this having on our children?" Given that so many of us are living in blended environments made up of children, adults and grandparents, it's easy to see how our differences can cause stress. Especially if Winston Churchill's prediction is true that, "If you're young and a Republican you have no heart. If you're old and a Democrat you have no brain."
As we move into the next political debate, we would be wise to think about the messages we're modeling for our kids as our unresolved anger begins to flow out. It would be foolhardy not to recognize that we're a country of angry people. Those of us engaged in reading the news, following politics and open to debating the ins and outs are all scared by the last two decades of high-drama that has unfolded before our eyes. Certainly there will be hot topics that people within family units disagree on, and there is a reason to hash those topics out.
I would challenge each of us to take time to think about how we want to do this because our behavior will directly impact the next generation.
- If we character bash not just politicians but our family too, our kids will do the same.
- If we speak without listening, our kids will do it too.
- If we argue loudly with colorful four-letter words, our kids will do the same.
- If we personalize our anger and judge a person as stupid and uneducated, our kids will do it too.
- If we bully those with opposing viewpoints, our kids will do it too.
Simply stated, our behavior will be modeled.
It's up to us to set the stage for what is acceptable and how we want to discuss our differences. As a parent, I am deeply influenced by how my actions impact my son. When I think of the world I want him to grow into, it's not the climate we're living in today. What I have realized, is that it's not okay for me to simply be angry anymore. Certainly, I have reasons just like everyone else. But the consequences of my actions are too great to simply act without thinking. We owe it to the next generation to think BEFORE we act.
Tips to Manage Your Anger:
1. Practice the art of pausing before you speak. When you find yourself about to unleash on someone, take a moment to collect yourself. In order to do this you have to recognize where anger lives in your body. Do you become short of breath, physically hot, does your jaw clench or your heart begin to race? Take time to get to know your physical signs so you can monitor them and know when it's time to pause before you act.
2. Truly listen to the other person's point of view. Do you know what they're feeling and does it make any kind of logical sense to you? I'm not suggesting you need to agree with their point of view; the question is did you honestly hear them? If the answer is no, before reacting, simply say to the other person, "before we go on, can you tell me why you believe this to be true?" This action does two things: It shows respect to the person, which goes a long way in keeping an argument from exploding, and it gives you a few minutes to calm down.
3. Try the old "count to 10" trick. You'd be surprised how well it works. Close your eyes, take deep breaths and use your breath to keep count.
4. Take a time out. The key to time outs is to return when you're calmed down. If your anger is reaching a pinnacle while you're in a crowd, take the initiative to step away and continue your conversation with fewer people. Sometimes the mob mentality can fuel the fire and make the situation worse.
5. Communicate the truth about how you're feeling. Simply state from your perspective how you're feeling and that you're having a hard time not reacting with anger. Lowering your voice can help too. When people are in the heat of the moment their voices tend to rise as their passion does. Mentioning that you're working on not being overly angry may elicit some support from whomever you're talking to. Classically, using the word "I" works well to keep your feelings about you and not about the other person.
I can't say this is easy, but practice certainly helps. As the fall elections continue and we move into the next year, the importance of finding constructive ways to express our feelings will continue to rise.
I'd love to hear how it's going for you. After all, we're all in this together: red, blue, tea-colored or checked out. Maybe what we all really need is to start each morning watching the "Double Rainbow" video and keep the TV and the radio off.
Originally published on The Huffington Post.