Self-control: Anger as Weakness

My new venture in posting hadith has turned out to be more difficult than I thought it would.  I’m finding that I’ll decide on a hadith that I’d like to post and then as I begin reflecting on it, many more hadith come to mind, along with relevant research, ideas, examples, experiences… and then I realize that I need to do a lot of work getting sources and making sure all my facts are straight – and suddenly I find that a few days have passed now and I still haven’t posted anything!  So, my task for now is to try to keep it simple! 

“The one who angers you, conquers you.” -Prophet Muhammad (saws)

(Bismillah arrahman arraheem.)

This hadith, although seemingly simplistic and basic, has massive relevance to our daily interactions, and is much harder to put into practice than one might think. 

Essentially, the message is that if we become angry or upset in response to someone else, we have effectively allowed them full control over our emotions.  They win, basically.  You could have the best comeback in the world; you could succeed in making them upset too – but they still have won by being able to exert that much power over your emotions.  Yet, it is important to remember that your emotions are yours and no one else’s.  You have the ability to conquer and control them, and allowing others to do so instead reveals the lack of control you have over yourself. 

Some people thrive on getting a rise out of other people, as they understand quite well that once the other person gets upset, they’ve won the game.  One of my brothers has always enjoyed this ‘game’ ever since we were kids.  He would pester my other brother and me until we started getting annoyed and responding back negatively.  The more upset we got, the more he laughed.  The more he laughed, the more frustrated we got!  Eventually he would walk away, satisfied and entertained, and we would be left fuming and powerless by our inability to affect him.  He won by succeeding in making us upset – and we lost because he simply smiled and laughed off our vicious attacks intended to hurt him or make him angry. 

Similarly, when we find ourselves getting upset by another person, we need to take a deep breath and take back control of our emotions.  It doesn’t mean that we should repress our negative feelings altogether, but it does mean that we should take a more logical approach to responding to others.  Even the Bible encourages responding without negative emotions, as Proverbs 15:1 states, “A soft answer turns away wrath.”  Instead of becoming angry and emotionally attacking back, we should first look at the bigger picture to see what is really going on, and then decide what is the best way to proceed in order to achieve the desired results. 

If we approach the people who we interact with on a daily basis in this way, many small fires can be put out easily and huge arguments can be prevented.  Many times, fights with a spouse or a family member often stem from something very minor, but spiral out of control when one or both parties relinquish control of their emotions. 

Reacting to someone with full control of your emotions and assessing the actual intention behind the words or action can cause completely different results.  For example,  let’s say a father starts to lecture his daughter about her habit of being late and the importance of being on time.  She could deal with his words on a surface level and ignore the intention behind it, which could cause her to feel angry, become defensive and start arguing back.  Or, she could understand that his intention is only to help her be more successful in life (but perhaps he just chose to deliver the message ineffectively, by lecturing), and instead thank him for his concern, ignore his gruffness, and agree that being on time is important (while not necessarily acknowledging any accusations).  She has now de-escalated the conflict, he feels that his message has been received and will likely stop lecturing her, and she has retained full control of her emotions and both can walk away feeling positive. 

Of course, not all words or actions have a positive intention behind them, so in those cases it is important to first recognize their intention and then determine the source of their intention – while still retaining control of your emotions.  Then you will be in a position to rationally determine what the appropriate course of action should be. 

For instance, perhaps someone is ridiculing your faith.  In this situation, you may determine that a. their intention is to make you upset, and b. their intention stems from ignorance.  So, instead of responding to their intention, you could instead go to the actual source and address their ignorance. 

Of course, all this can be challenging to actually put into practice, and it is unlikely that you will be able to be fully successful on your first attempt.  It will take a great deal of practice, time, patience, and above all, self control.  You have to constantly remind yourself to look at the bigger picture and not be tempted to give in for short term satisfaction (with long term negative results).

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