Slow to anger …

Serenity Image courtesy of dan /
Image courtesy of dan /

“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” Aristotle

Philosophers. There comes, I suppose, a stage in everyone’s life when one turns to them to seek peace and contentment, knowledge and wisdom in life. Recently I found much pleasure in seeking the wise counsel of such philosophers, whose teachings I assumed would make life simple and easy.

It has proved to be an enlightening adventure so far. Take for instance the subject of ‘anger’. All philosophers suggest that one should remain calm and composed even when things go wrong and the situation is beyond ones control.By doing this one would save oneself a lot of unnecessary headache and hardship.

I found this concept very interesting and decided to put it into practice at the first possible opportunity. Alas, things didn’t turn out to be that smooth in real life.

My first opportunity was when I went to meet my friend. We were on our way to watch a movie and I went to his home to join him.  Although we were getting late,I found that my friend was still not ready and suddenly I realized that this was the right moment to test the ‘slow to anger’ theory. Summoning patience, I counted up to ten, forced myself to sit quietly on the sofa and furtively attacked a Crossword puzzle to divert my attention.When my friend finally surfaced, well dressed up and eager to go, I realized that it was too late to catch the show. So I finally lost my patience and fumed and ranted at him for not getting ready on time. He gave me a quizzical look and said, “But I saw you sitting and working on the Crossword puzzle. Looking at you placidly working out the clues, I thought we had all the time in the world.” I was rendered speechless by his explanation.

Nevertheless I decided to give my theory another shot. I was visiting the cycle shop. I had given my bike for repairs and since I had an important appointment at 4 pm, I went to collect it at 3 pm. To my surprise the  workman was still working at it. I checked my mounting anger, reasoning to myself that it wouldn’t help to change the situation. After all he was working on my bike and if I irritated him, he may not focus on the task and I would be the ultimate loser. However tired of twiddling my thumbs I took off for some sight-seeing, mighty pleased that better sense had prevailed and I had allowed him to concentrate of  his job.

At about quarter to 4 I returned to the shop, hoping that my cycle would be ready. To my utter dismay I saw that he had left my bike’s repair half way and was busy working on another cycle. I started to protest but he cut me short by saying, “The way you took off to have a stroll, I didn’t think you were in a hurry.”

Enough is enough, I decided that it is fine for philosophers to be unmoved at crisis time but it didn’t suit most of us. So you can be forgiving and of an easy-going temperament but much as people will admire you for it, your needs will not be prioritized and you will end up playing the second fiddle.

And so as Robert Lynd has said, “When the world is normally cheerful and comfortable, we hold the paradoxical belief that philosophers were wise men, but that we should be fools to imitate them.” We are convinced that while Philosophers are worth reading, are they really worth bothering about in real life?

So my sincerest advice to those who chance to opt for my counsel is that reading and preaching philosophy is fine, but never put it to practice. You won’t find it to be a profitable proposition.

So the next time you have a reason to be angry – scream, shout, yell, throw tantrums, pace the floor – do anything but don’t keep quiet or shrug it off.

The article appeared under the ‘Facing Facts’ column in the Leisure supplement of a local newspaper ‘Indian Express’ in Pune, India on June 12, 1996.

I guess Aristotle’s ideal is rather hard to achieve in life and we need to keep striving to have a ‘balanced’ approach between the ‘person’ and the ‘task’ approach.

All the same I find one more thought very effective.  Gurdjieff – great Russian mystic – mentions that his dad taught him this when he was on his death-bed, “I have nothing to give you but one advise; wait for 24 hours before you react. Whether somebody insults you or praises you, react only after 24 hours.” For often after 24 hours the insults or the praise seemed to be of no consequence and so there was no need to react. Incorporate this in your life and experience for yourself the solace it brings. And like all good rules, there will always be the rare exceptions to the same.


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