Learning to deal with anger constructively

Said Ahmed-Zaid, Idaho Statesman religion columnist
Said Ahmed-Zaid, Idaho Statesman religion columnist

Once a man approached the Prophet for advice in his daily life. The Prophet replied with these simple words: “Do not become angry.” Unsatisfied with this answer, the man repeated his request. The Prophet again said “Do not become angry” and he elaborated by adding “He is not a strong man he who can wrestle someone to the ground, but he is strong he who can restrain his anger.”

This beautiful advice can be interpreted as having two meanings. The first is to have good manners, patience, humility, forbearance, calmness and other character traits that control or dampen one’s anger. The second meaning is that one should not act under the dictate of anger for it causes this person to yell at others, or worse, to become violent with them.

Imam Shafi’i, leader of one of the four Sunni schools of thought in Islam, is quoted to have said: “When a man becomes angry, he becomes like an animal and, if he does not restrain his anger, then he becomes worse than an animal.” In others words, if a man acts on his anger, he may commit reprehensible acts that are undignified of a human being, and far worse than those of an animal who only reacts according to its nature.

Human emotion

Anger is a human emotion with positive as well as negative aspects. Humans react differently when provoked by anger. The Prophet taught us about the best and worst forms of anger.

He said: “Some are swift to anger and swift to cool down, the one characteristic making up for the other; some are slow to anger and slow to cool down, the one characteristic making up for the other; but the best of you are those who are slow to anger and swift to cool down, and the worst of you are those who are swift to anger and slow to cool down.” He continued by saying: “Beware of anger, for it is like a live coal in the heart of man. Do you not notice the swelling of the veins of his neck and the redness of his eyes?”

Fortunately, acts of violence due to anger are usually rare and are dealt with by law enforcement and the court system. However, all of us have experienced an angry person yelling at us at home, on the road, in the workplace, in a stadium, or even in a parking lot of a supermarket. When you receive an email where all letters are capitalized, then you know that the sender is yelling and in an angry mood. With today’s social media, you can tweet your state of mind in 140 characters or less and let millions of followers know how you feel.

How to respond

These stories bring me to the topic of my column today. First, how do you deal with anger issues if you are prone to getting angry? Second, how does the recipient of someone’s anger deal with a difficult or angry person who is verbally or physically abusive?

Since we spend a majority of time at home or at work, we deserve these two places to be as accommodating and as safe as possible. If you have a yeller at home or at work, then it is not a normal environment. Being yelled at is never a pleasant experience. When someone raises their voice at you, it is a form of oppression even though the yeller may not see it that way. In fact, research has shown that yelling is just as harmful and ineffective when it is being done “out of love” for the other person.

A safe environment begins at home. If it does not work at home, it will not work outside of the home. At home, it is the responsibility of both parents to create a safe, loving environment for everyone in the family. At work, it is the responsibility of the supervisor and the whole team to create a safe and productive atmosphere.

When someone is yelling at you, realize that this person has failed to communicate with you in a respectful manner and is trying to bully you into submission. Since you are not the one who lost control, you can take steps to handle this situation in a mature and constructive manner.

Keep calm

You need to resist the urge to yell back. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Before you do or say anything, take a deep breath and count slowly to 10. Project peace by expressing genuine surprise at the attitude the yeller is expressing. The less reactive you are to a provocation, the more you can use your better judgment to handle the situation. This deliberate time-out on your part will prevent you from escalating the conflict and from saying or doing things that you might regret later

When the yeller has calmed down, approach them and let them know how you feel. If they feel regret, they will work on their feelings or seek out counseling help for anger management. If you are the recipient of someone’s anger at work, you can also take a workshop on how to deal with “difficult” people.

Controlling one’s anger is described as a sign of righteousness in the Quran. Verses 3:133-134 elevate morally those who “repress their anger and pardon men” and those who, “when they are angry, they forgive” in Verses 42:36-37.

Dr. Said Ahmed-Zaid is a Boise State University engineering professor and the 2004 recipient of the annual HP Award for Distinguished Leadership in Human Rights.

The Idaho Statesman's weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.