One of the most wise adages of all times instructs us, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I have always fiercely loved that quote, and it’s served me well throughout my life — especially in moments of anger.
When we’re mad, we do things we regret: we break things, we swear, we are unkind to others… The list could go on and on. In his talk “Slow to Anger” President Gordon B. Hinckley said:
It is when we become angry that we get into trouble. The road rage that affects our highways is a hateful expression of anger. I dare say that most of the inmates of our prisons are there because they did something when they were angry. In their wrath they swore, they lost control of themselves, and terrible things followed, even murder. There were moments of offense followed by years of regret.
Obviously, anger is not only an unpleasant feeling, but it can lead to unpleasant actions if we don’t learn how to reign it in. Thankfully, while we may not be able to fully control our emotions, there is hope in knowing that we can control our actions. It can be difficult, but most things worth doing are.
So next time you feel the flame of anger burning within you, take a step back and consider these three tips.
Recognize That YOU Are in Control
Several years ago, Elder Lynn G. Robbins gave an absolutely fabulous talk on this concept, entitled “Agency and Anger.” In it, he remarked:
A cunning part of his strategy is to dissociate anger from agency, making us believe that we are victims of an emotion that we cannot control. We hear, “I lost my temper.” Losing one’s temper is an interesting choice of words that has become a widely used idiom. To “lose something” implies “not meaning to,” “accidental,” “involuntary,” “not responsible”—careless perhaps but “not responsible.”
The idea that we are not in control of our anger is a tool of the adversary. We are in control — we can choose to unleash our fury or we can choose to respond positively. If we genuinely struggle with “losing our temper” and truly feel out of control, we can choose to speak with our bishop, attend anger management courses, and seek other helpful resources.
At the end of the day, being unkind and treating others poorly is a choice.
Elder Robbins continued:
To those who say, “But I can’t help myself,” author William Wilbanks responds: “Nonsense.”
“Aggression, … suppressing the anger, talking about it, screaming and yelling,” are all learned strategies in dealing with anger. “We choose the one that has proved effective for us in the past. Ever notice how seldom we lose control when frustrated by our boss, but how often we do when annoyed by friends or family?” (“The New Obscenity,” Reader’s Digest, Dec. 1988, 24; emphasis added).
In his sophomore year Wilbanks tried out for the high school basketball team and made it. On the first day of practice his coach had him play one-on-one while the team observed. When he missed an easy shot, he became angry and stomped and whined. The coach walked over to him and said, “You pull a stunt like that again and you’ll never play for my team” (23). For the next three years he never lost control again. Years later, as he reflected back on this incident, he realized that the coach had taught him a life-changing principle that day: anger can be controlled.
Anger can be controlled. Through prayer, steadfast effort, and, most importantly, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can learn to harness those negative emotions and respond to difficult situations with kindness.
Learn to Laugh
In the same talk of President Hinckley’s mentioned above, he shares a story that never fails to make me laugh:
Many years ago I worked for one of our railroads. A switchman was aimlessly strolling about the platform one day. I asked him to move a car to another track. He exploded. He threw his cap on the pavement and jumped up and down on it, swearing like a drunken sailor. I stood there and laughed at his childish behavior. Noting my laughter, he began to laugh at his own foolishness. He then quietly climbed on the switch engine, drove it over to the empty car, and moved it to an empty track.
I thought of a verse from Ecclesiastes: “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
The first lesson we can learn from this story is that you shouldn’t stomp on your hat. Very important. The second lesson, which is probably a little more important than the first, is that we can learn to laugh when life hands us a sour lemon.
It would have been easy for President Hinckley to get mad at the man in his story. After all, the guy wasn’t working on anything, and President Hinckley had asked something pretty simple of him. Clearly, the worker’s response was an overreaction — one that I’m sure was highly unexpected from President Hinckley. But instead of getting mad back — instead of angrily shouting, “I asked you to do this one thing and you’re being a huge baby about it?” — he stepped back and simply laughed.
It allowed him to avoid a conflict and even helped the other man to realize that his own rage was unjustified.
When I served a mission, I had an experience where I could have become angry but chose instead to laugh. My companion and I spent a good chunk of our day trying to do something nice for a less-active member, who essentially told us that our efforts weren’t up to par. I wrote home about this experience:
It would have been really easy to be angry at [this member], but instead, we just chose to laugh about it. Life is a billion times more fun if you choose to laugh and let things go. The Lord has commanded us to forgive ALL men, and a big part of that is learning to let go; to not let yourself get so angry. I know from personal experience that letting things go and controlling your temper will make you so much happier and more positive than if you don’t. The Lord has given us the commandment that we should forgive “70 times 7” as much for our benefit as for the person whom we forgive.
Being angry will not make you happy. The Lord doesn’t want us to be unhappy and bitter. Choose a better way of life! I promise that if you ask the Lord to help you and then you diligently work at it, you can overcome your temper.
So learn to laugh! After all, life really is more fun that way.
Ask “Am I Helping or Hurting?”
On the topic of anger, my mother said something to me once that I think about often. She remarked, “You know, I’ve never understood why someone would say something to deliberately hurt another person.”
We all know someone who, when angry, theoretically goes for the jugular. They find the thing you are most self-conscious about and they exploit it.
DON’T BE THAT PERSON.
When you’re mad, ask yourself, “Are the words I want to say going to help diffuse the situation or are they going to cause more damage?” When a tornado hits, the more damage is done, the more there is to clean up — and it’s the same way when we say things out of anger. The more unkind you are, the more you have to clean up later… And cleaning up those kinds of messes is never enjoyable.
When I was a teenager, I remember my dad telling my sister and me that if we were mad, to count slowly to ten before we responded to someone. This trick really helped me, allowing me to air some steam and consider my words before I said them.
We can’t control what life throws at us, but we can control how we react — and rather than reacting with anger, let us choose to react with love. Instead of spewing hateful words, let us soothe and comfort. Remember that our initial emotions may be negative, but we can always choose to respond positively.
I know with surety that the Lord will bless us for it.
Amy Carpenter is the site manager and editor for LDSBlogs.com. She served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denver, Colorado, where she learned to love mountains and despise snow. She has a passion for peanut butter, dancing badly, and most of all, the gospel.