In the lighthearted comedy Anger Management, a mild-mannered man ends up getting into a fight and is eventually ordered by a judge to undergo anger management therapy. But unlike in the movie, anger is no laughing matter.
Studies indicate increased incidents of angry outbursts on planes, in workplaces, and on the highway. And media coverage of incidents like a father fatally attacking another parent at his son's hockey game, points to an increasing need for permanent solutions to stem the tide of anger that threatens to get out of control.
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David Stevens, whom I recently interviewed, found a way not only to control anger but to be freed from it. Fifteen years ago as a college dean at a small midwestern college, David remembers how unpleasant it used to be for his family whenever he lost his temper.
"I thought the other people—my wife, my children, or collegues at work—just were not seeing my side of things," David says now. "I would tell myself that it wasn't my fault."
David's wife, Laurie, remembers that David's temper made it difficult for them to communicate. Tension would mount because she and the children did not want to say or do anything to get him upset. "The temper was intimidating," says Laurie. David's daughter Brooke told him she was scared of him.
"Instead of always wanting to be right, I decided to identify more closely with the qualities of patience, meekness, love, and good deeds. There's no amount of rightness lost
in loving first."
David also started having an irregular heartbeat and chest pains, which were, at times, pretty severe. He grew worried that he was having heart problems and wondered on a few occasions if he'd make it through the night.
David realized that he needed to do something about these problems. He had been told growing up that his temper stemmed from his family history—many of the men in his family had bad tempers. But he had also seen how his father was able to resolve this problem through a deepened spiritual understanding.
David felt encouraged by his father's transformation. He thought that he, too, could find a spiritual resolution to this problem. He started looking for ideas that could help him in Science and Health. "All my life I've turned to Science and Health along with my study of the Bible," David says. "It's always helped me. And this was a serious issue that I was trying to pray about deeply. From Science and Health I'd always found healing ideas, inspiration, and guidance."
One idea that David found helpful is that God is his divine Parent, who gives him a good inheritance. "Science and Health told me that God is our Father and Mother," says David. "This Father and Mother is divine Love, all good." Since God is the divine Father and Mother, who gives all that is good, he realized this Parent had never given him any bad traits. He could be free. He could identify himself spiritually, rather than as someone who was saddled with a temper.
In 1988, David and Laurie decided it was time to make some major changes in their lives. David quit his job to spend more time with his family. The family left their home in the Midwest and took a one-year trip through Europe.
Nine of these months were spent camping. David and Laurie homeschooled their two children, Josh (12) and Brooke (9). They also spent more time talking together, sharing ideas, and reading books.
The family got closer as they discovered they could talk things through and laugh together. "We would laugh so hard, we were sure we were going to be thrown out of the campgrounds!" says David.
David remembers this as a valuable time for him as he continued to work through the problem with his temper and the physical symptoms he'd had. A sentence from Science and Health hit home for him: "What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds" (p. 4).
David explains that he argued with this sentence when he had first read it. "I said, 'You can't tell me what I most need! What I most need is for people to see I'm right!' " says David now, laughing. But as he continued to study and think about the ideas in Science and Health, he felt calmer. The chest pains subsided.
The family actively supported David's efforts to react less and love more. They reminded David of his goal to be more patient, meek, and loving whenever he started to become angry.
"We would tell him that we were working together as a team," said Brooke. "We started to joke with him in a loving way. We'd tell him not to make 'that face.' " This would break the tension of the moment and help David regain his equilibrium.
After their one-year trip, the family relocated to California. Four years later, when Brooke was a freshman in high school, David found himself starting to lose his temper again when he and Brooke got into arguments stemming from her growing independence as a teenager.
The chest pains also returned.
David put a sign up on his desk that said, "Don't be right—love." He thought more about that passage he'd wrestled with while in Europe. "Instead of always wanting to be right, I decided to identify more closely with the qualities of patience, meekness, love, and good deeds," says David. "There's no amount of rightness lost in loving first."
Brooke noticed that her father grew more open to her point of view. She and her father stopped arguing. "We were more able to talk things through," Brooke says. "My dad would sit down with us and hear our perspective." David stopped losing his temper, and the physical symptoms went away for good.
Today, almost a decade later, the whole family is very close. "The major problem our family has now when we get together is that we laugh too much!" says David, who today works as a spiritual healer, and shares the ideas he's learned from Science and Health with audiences around the US.
David feels that anyone can learn from Science and Health how to see what we all have in common as sons and daughters of God. It's this spiritual perspective, he says, that will heal anger in families, in the public, and, perhaps, even between nations.
This article first appeared on the website www.spirituality.com.