- Stop, Look, and Go to Control Temper
- Erasto Fernandez
Flying into a rage at the slightest provocation, Terrence
exonerates himself pleading: " I cant help it. Im a very short-tempered
person, and I guess I will always remain that way!" This, or something similar, is
what we often hear from persons who believe that they are the unfortunate ones saddled
with lifes problems, while so many others seem to be gloriously free of such
In his best-seller The Seven Habits Stephen Covey shows us
conclusively that a person is hardly ever determined in this way from the out side. People
are never the victims of genetic determinism (handed down from one generation to another)
nor of psychic determinism (your parents did it to you) nor of environmental determinism
(the others around you are doing it to you). These theories basically believe that there
is an automatic connection between stimulus and response, pre-set and coming from outside.
A little serious reflection reveals that there is a vital gap between
stimulus and response-a gap in which we can exercise the greatest human endowment: human
freedom, the ability to choose our response. If at all there is an automatic link in our
lives between the two, it is because we have chosen to establish and maintain one
ourselves. And if we have made the connection, then we are also free and powerful enough
to de-link them.
From his own experiences in German concentration camps, Viktor Frankl
in Mans Search For Meaning, popularised the notion that freedom is not the
same as liberty. Liberty indicates the presence of a variety of options from which I can
choose. True freedom, however, refers to the internal power I possess to exercise my
options-to act or not to act-and not just to act in one way or other.
Once we see out way clearly through these simple distinctions, the
possibility of a change, even of long-standing unpleasant habits, becomes distinctly real
and attainable. We begin to sense our real inner power a power that no one can take
away, not can anyone else exercise it on out behalf.
The oft-quoted advice given by Jesus Christ is worth repeating here: Do
unto others what you would want them to do unto you. When we sow seeds of goodness all
around us, we would naturally reap a harvest of positive reactions from people all around
us. With consistently good harvests, we will be in a position to hand over to future
generations a treasure trove of goodness and well-being for all time to come.
In Peace is Every Step Thich Nhat Hanh relates the story of an
11-year-old boy who found that he harboured tremendous anger against his father. Every
time he fell down and hurt himself, his father would shout at him. The boy vowed to
himself that when he grew up, he would be different. But a couple of years later, his
little sister fell off a swing one-day and hurt herself badly. Seeing this the boy became
very angry. He felt the urge to shout at her, he stopped himself, and because he had been
practising breathing and mindfulness, he was able to recognise his anger and choose not
act on it.
While others attended to the wounded girl, he walked some distance away
and began breathing deeply to contain his anger. Suddenly he saw that he was behaving
exactly like his father. He said to Thich later: " I realised that if I didnt
do something about the anger in me, I would transmit it to my children." He realised
that his father too, like himself, might have been a victim of inherited anger. As the boy
continued to practise mindfulness, his anger disappeared completely.
Each of us has the power to be the kind of person we want to be-if only we recognise
the true inner freedom we possess, and are responsible enough to exercise it. The first
step seems to be: be aware of what is happening, viz., that we are being drawn to act
inappropriately. The next crucial element is to pause at this juncture, to stop before
responding inappropriately. In the space this pause affords us, we consciously assess the
alternatives available: Do I really need to act negatively? Are there any other ways in
which I could respond?