Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sticks and Stones

I had a disturbing experience this past weekend regarding an event that did not proceed as expected. Dozens of folks were looking forward to seeing a spiritual movie, but the person who was delivering the DVD was stuck at the airport. I made a few phone calls to alert everyone about the delay.

Since there was no way we could predict an accurate time the movie would be shown that evening, it left things literally (and figuratively) in the air. It was an unfortunate incident, but certainly not the end of the world. However, one gentleman, who was very disappointed that he may not be able to see the movie, turned the whole situation into a personal attack against him.

I did not take this tirade personally. I knew this gentleman had been suffering from a tragic death in his family, but it was still an uncomfortable feeling to have someone venting so much anger at something that was out of my control.

Fortunately, I have always been slow to anger. I tell people I’m a typical Taurus and I have a long fuse before my anger explodes. However, in my younger days my temper was akin to Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano. And like the lava-spewing eruption, the devastation was significant.

Words and actions that erupt from anger are damaging to the perpetrator and the recipient. I once gave a presentation on anger. I recalled a little ditty that many moms would recite to their children when someone hurt their feelings.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

I asked the group to raise their hands if they had ever endured physical suffering in childhood – anything from a skinned knee to a broken bone. Everyone raised their hands. Then I asked how many still suffered from that physical pain. Only one hand was raised. Then I asked, “How many of you were hurt from something someone said to you when you were a kid?" Once again, every hand was in the air. I asked how many of them still smarted from this historical event. One by one, everyone in the room raised their hands.

The point is, calling people names, insulting someone, or nasty verbal exchanges do hurt. In fact they hurt a lot. It reminds me of the story of David, an alcoholic whose story is outlined in my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within.

David took solace in drinking as much red wine as he could find. As he continued to drink, his anger erupted into full-blown fury. He became a human demolition machine. The alcohol fueled his rage like gas on a fire. With a sweep of his arm, family mementos came crashing to the floor. He hurled pictures and chairs across the room. Within minutes, the once tidy living room became strewn with broken wood and shards of glass.

He grasped his wife’s neck and began to choke her. But in a moment of clarity, he stopped. Instead he grabbed a large wooden clock on the wall and threw it on the floor. Next he took the sofa table and smashed it into pieces. David’s anger turned into self loathing. He grabbed the leg of a broken table and started beating himself across the wrists.

“Call the police,” David murmured in a defeated tone.

David was placed in the hospital (he was fortunate that his wife chose that option over his incarceration), he joined AA and eventually changed his life. But the damage was done. His wife divorced him, he only sees his daughter a couple of weeks a year, and he is still plagued by the memory of what he did that night.

In an effort to help individuals with anger issues, Erase Negativity offers several exercises. For brevity, I’ve chosen a couple to outline here.


• When you start to lose control or feel angry, move away from the situation or person that is causing the infuriating reaction. If at all possible, take a walk. Do not drive when you are mad.
• Choose your words carefully. Replace irate language and thoughts with more rational ones. Instead of thinking, “this is awful,” “everything is ruined,” try saying, “this is frustrating, but it’s not the end of the world.”


• Close your eyes. Breathe deeply through your nose. Put your hand beneath your breast and feel your diaphragm filling with air. You do not want to inhale through your chest. Hold your breath for a count of 10. Release the air through your mouth. Do this at least five times.
• As you inhale, repeat a soothing word or phrase such as “I am calm” or “relax.”
• Close your eyes and smile for at least 30 seconds to one minute. While you are smiling, repeat in your mind that you are calm and happy. It is impossible to stay angry when you are smiling. This may feel silly at first, but give it a try anyway.
I don’t advocate a life without anger. Anger when channeled to stand up to injustice and create social change, can be a noble goal. But most of the time we are angry because our pride has been wounded.
In short, if you have an explosive temper, make an attempt to get it under control. You will suffer less, and so will those around you. Sticks and stones may temporarily break bones, but words launched in anger can hurt a lifetime.

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