Lately I’ve been reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. This particular book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, is very simply written but offers some great insight into anger.
Hanh explains that “When someone says or does something that makes us angry, we suffer. We tend to say or do something back to make the other suffer, with the hope that we will suffer less … when I see you suffer a lot, I will feel better.” Unfortunately, “The result is an escalation of suffering on both sides. Both of you need compassion and help. Neither of you needs punishment.”
We all get angry, whether it’s at our children, our spouse, or the person who cuts us off on the highway. I know once my buttons are pushed it is very hard to retain perspective. It’s hard to have compassion for the other person when you are busy flying off the handle. But compassion is the key, “… because compassion is the real antidote for anger. Nothing can heal anger except compassion.” If we can have compassion for the person who is doing something that would usually anger us, we are saving ourselves a lot of suffering.
I recently experienced this first hand. I was with someone who became very angry and began to behave badly. I could feel my anger rising up to meet the other person’s. My perception was that they were just being a jerk for no apparent reason. Fortunately, the other person revealed the reason they were so angry and behaving so badly. As soon as I saw the real reason, my anger dissipated and automatically turned to compassion. Once I saw that the other person was suffering and not just trying to make me suffer, I was no longer angry at them.
Hanh says that “Most of the time, anger is born from a wrong perception.” Sometimes, okay maybe most of the time, we can look at a situation and get it all wrong. How much easier is it to look at the person who just cut you off on the highway and say I feel sorry for that person? Perhaps they are rushing to an emergency or they simply made a mistake and didn’t see me here. Hey, I make mistakes. I can relate. This attitude leaves you with a whole lot less suffering than fuming about how you have been wronged.
Perhaps this holiday season we can all take a few deep breaths and give the other person, and ourselves, the benefit of the doubt. Have compassion for yourselves and for others. We could all use a little less suffering.
Best wishes for the holiday season and the New Year.