Most days I can control my tongue, but every once and awhile I wish I had a muzzle or at least a bridle.
I said, “I will guard my ways
that I may not sin with my tongue;
I will keep a muzzle on my mouth
as long as the wicked are in my presence.”
— Psalm 39:1 (NRSV)
But even that might not be enough. The psalmist continues:
I was silent and still;
I held my peace to no avail;
my distress grew worse,
my heart became hot within me.
While I mused, the fire burned;
— Psalm 39:2-3a (NRSV)
Yes, muzzled anger only intensifies. Instead of flashing out at its perceived causes, it burns within, consuming me instead.
There is a better way to bridle anger, to put it to work.
First, I am learning to recognize that my anger helps no one else. But it can help me as an alert of an injustice I might correct.
Second, ask what have I observed. Specifically, what would a neutral unemotional observer report, what might a camera record. For example not that so-and-so disrespects other people by always arriving late, but that this week he was late 5 minutes and 15 minutes the week before and perhaps occasionally he had arrived on time.
Third, reflect on my values compromised by what I have observed. In the above example, respect for participants in a meeting. Timeliness is merely a strategy for demonstrating respect.1
Now I am prepared to cool my anger. Report what I have observed and the values compromised and to seek new strategies to demonstrate mutual respect.
So then, putting away falsehood,
let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors,
for we are members of one another.
Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.
Thieves must give up stealing;
rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands,
so as to have something to share with the needy.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is useful for building up, as there is need,
so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger
and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,
and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ has forgiven you.
— Ephesians 4:25-32 (NRSV)
* For more information about this process see: Deborah Van Deusen Hunsinger and Theresa F. Latini, Transforming Church Conflict: Compassionate Leadership in Action.