So how do we smooth out the rough edges?
Consider the following:
- “Anger rests in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
It’s not a crime to be angry. It is a crime to stay angry. Don’t believe me? Think I’m being overly dramatic now? Well, this thought may change your mind: is it true or false that many of the most heinous crimes are committed when the perpetrator is angry? In other words, prolonged anger quite often leads to moments of extreme and unpredictable rashness. It’s like the effect of alcohol — you often become a whole other person. And any casual perusal of the history books will show you how anger has landed many people in jail and even more in the grave. It’s part of the reason we have so many psychologists. Look at “hate crimes”. Torture. Mass murder. Genocide. Lynchings. The holocaust. All of these came from a foundation of hatred and anger for and against one or more persons or groups. And what’s more, prolonged anger is a sign of extreme folly. Anyone who can dictate how you feel has immense power over you. Especially when that person can inspire negative, destructive and dark emotions within you consistently instead of positive ones. Now think about this: how many humans would you trust with that kind of power over you? We all know how fickle humanity is. Is it really wise to hand that kind of power over to someone else? Solomon rightly said, “he that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
Now remember: it is NOT a crime to be angry. You should be upset when you see foolishness taking place around you. But bear 2 things in mind in your anger — a) you should direct your anger at the folly itself, not the person (meaning if you’re even angry with someone, it should be because of what they have done that was unwholesome instead of because of who they are); and b) it is NEVER a brilliant idea to allow feelings of anger to be sustained.
I hope the distinction in Point A is clear. The point I’m trying to make is, always have a desire to see the person develop. Never hate the person. Hate their folly. It’s what Christ did and why He had such an impact on just about everyone who crossed His path. To decide a person is worth hating for any reason is to play God, which would be the height of hypocrisy. (Not even God plays that game, and He would presumably have all right to!) Believe me, you and I are NOT better than ANYONE ELSE out there. We make mistakes just like everyone else; sometimes horrible and stupid mistakes. So remember your humanity with all its shining virtues and embarrassing flaws and be patient with others for your own sake. Yes, your own. You are not perfect, and the time will surely come — and very soon and more often than you’d wish, too — when you will want, nay, need a little patience, a little mercy. If you neglected grace and mercy during the times that you held the upper hand, I can promise you that around 95% of everybody else will similarly withhold them from you when you’re on your face. So be slow to anger. It’ll go a loooong way in helping you to cope with others; and it’ll give you peace, too. Besides, people mess up on a daily basis. Do you really have the time, energy or desire to keep up with all that messing up by giving each and every last one of them its own temper tantrum as a prize?
One more thing related to anger: don’t allow every little thing that happens/is said/is done to ruffle your feathers. It’s childish and unproductive and it not only exhausts everyone else, but yourself as well. Especially yourself. Be calm. Some things should just be let go. Like water off a duck’s back. “Go placidly among the lilies…”
- Speak kind words (Proverbs 15:1)
Do you like people who nag you? Do you like people who try to make you look dumb? Do you like to be shouted at (even if you actually think you deserved it)? Do you like to be cursed at? Don’t you like to be complimented? Don’t you like to hear genuinely appreciative words? Don’t you like to be spoken to as if you are a human being, someone with integrity and value?
Do all this for others — and do it genuinely — and you’ll start to notice instant changes in the attitudes of those around you. Seriously! Instant. Refrain from trying to make others seem dumb. Do not resort to shouting and threats. They actually prove that you are not in control of the situation instead of showing how powerful and fearsome you are. Don’t let your feelings dictate your reactions. Half the time they’ll lead you astray. That’s really too big a margin for error. It’s better to use your conscience, your wisdom, your common sense. And fighting fire with fire only produces a bigger flame! When have you ever called in the fire department and they attacked the flame with more fire? Then what convinces you that it’ll work for you if the professionals don’t dare try it? When people try to upset you or make you sound dumb or crack cruel jokes, douse ’em with water! (Not literally, now! I won’t be held responsible for any unauthorized revenge-soaking!) Respond with kind words, and if that’s beyond you, just say nothing at all. Sure, you’ll look like a wuss, but, trust me, you’ll only LOOK like one. And only to fools, at that. That may sound harsh but in the end it’s eminently true. Anyone with any wisdom will realize who the real victor in that battle of wills was. Any ordinary person can dish out what’s dished to them. There’s NOTHING special about that. (That’s what makes it so mundane, so ordinary: almost everyone does it on the regular. Ain’t nothin’ special ’bout that! I can do that too! But can you do this? No? Right. Didn’t think so!) It takes a truly extraordinary soul to control and defeat that urge! And you’re extraordinary, right? 🙂
- Show yourself friendly (Proverbs 18:24)
I’m not going to tell you to suddenly become the most social butterfly in life. Nope. Some social butterflies do their social butterflying for very wrong or sad reasons. What I will say is this: be a friend. Be genuinely concerned about others. Be pleasant. Good-mornings, good-afternoons, good-evenings and good-nights can’t hurt. Nor can a pleasant “hi” or “hello”. “Manners carry you throughout the world”, as my grandma said. You don’t even need to say much. Just take on a pleasant, friendly, genuine attitude. Be sincere. People were made with built-in fraud detectors. Sure, some work better than others and some people have learned to by-pass these detectors with expert skill, but the built-in fraud detectors are never fully duped. Not for long, anyway. Sooner or later, the facade will start to peel itself away (yes, it will peel itself away; no facade is perfect) and something will trip the alarm. So be sincere. Be natural. Lend a hand. You don’t need a reason. We’ve been fooled by the world. “What’s-in-it-for-me-ism” is a hopeless fallacy. Let’s not get caught up in that. That’s not what we were made for, and if all the philanthropists and charity groups and kind souls were to suddenly vanish overnight, I promise you the world wouldn’t last through the next day. It’d be wrecked within hours if not minutes. Real friendship isn’t knowing someone’s middle name, favourite colour, favourite movie, and deepest-darkest-secret. Real friendship is having someone’s back for no other reason than that you WANT to have each other’s backs. It’s that simple.
- Listen to others and give them the benefit of the doubt (Titus 1:15)
Don’t you just hate being misunderstood? Yes! I know! I hate it too! And what about being suspected all the time? This is the be-all-end-all to all problems in a lot of parent-child relationships, for example. They don’t understand each other. They think they do, but they really have never taken the time. And that leads to suspicion. Hey, I’m not trying to be daft here. Kids do stuff. Silly stuff. Stupid stuff. But you expecting it of them and feeding and constantly bombarding them with those negative thoughts and lack of trust will hardly remedy the situation. Quite the opposite, on the contrary. We really should try to have just a leeeeeedle more faith in people. Just a tiny bit more. You’ll be pleasantly surprized just how far that little bit goes!
I’ve learned one thing. “To the pure all things are pure” is real! Quick example. Two innocent toddlers hardly have any ideas of sexual misconduct when they hug each other or when left alone to play while mom does the dishes, washes, cooks, cleans and does a million and one other things. (Keyword: “INNOCENT”. To my extreme shock, I’ve been slapped over the head with the chilling reality that there exist some toddlers with more experience and lack of innocence than ME and many adults I know!) However, replace those two toddlers with a teenage boy and girl, or even fast forward those same two toddlers to those years. Suddenly it’s a whole different ball game, isn’t it? Mom probably won’t be so keen to let them have sleepovers like when they were 2 years old anymore…
But another thing is, we most often expect of others what we think within ourselves! If I harbour thoughts of stealing that $50 bill as I look at it, isn’t it also true that if I see another person staring at it I often have a sudden suspicion that they, too, want to steal that money? “There is no honour among thieves,” and this is precisely why! But what if they were merely staring into space and it’s just pure coincidence that their eyes were looking in that particular direction? Hmm… Not a thought I’d likely entertain though, is it?
It’s also important to LISTEN to others. Allow them to speak. Allow them to explain what they mean. It’s never really a good idea to assume that we know. Sometimes we’re right…and sometimes we’re dead wrong! And what’s the use in asking someone to explain when we’ve already decided in our own minds that they’re lying and that we won’t believe a word they say? What if the roles were reversed? Would we want someone else to take that stance with us? We must all admit that the world is now full to overflowing with deception everywhere. That’s why conspiracy theories thrive so much. And we must therefore be wise. Very wise. But would it not be the greatest of follies to use that as an excuse to rob others of the chance to be heard and understood?
- Watch your words (Proverbs 18:21; 21:23; James 3:7-11)
We must be careful of our words. We must. The tongue is difficult to tame and can build or break so many things, kill or heal. It’s probably the single greatest contributing factor to broken relationships. Learning to bridle the tongue is an arduous task, but the benefits and discipline gained are well worth it. Alas! To not say anything at all if one has nothing good to say…!
These are just a few thoughts we can ruminate on as we struggle to navigate the murky waters of life. Life is in relationship. If we really want to be happy it’s imperative that we find ways to not only co-exist, but to enjoy doing it. If that were not true then it’d be enough to merely make a few bucks and own a few things. Or a lot. Whichever. But we find that it’s actually not enough no matter how much we amass, is it? Not ever. No, our happiness is ultimately bound up in the existence and happiness of other human beings such as ourselves. That’s not something we can change; it just is. But, you know what? That’s not such a bad thing after all. I mean, who really wants to be all alone in this world?