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Anger-It’s a Matter of Perspective

July 22, 2013

The ABCD strategy for dealing with anger suggests that we become a bit more realistic and rational in dealing with life’s frustrations and setbacks by disputing with those thoughts that make us angrier by the minute. The fathers would also suggest being realistic and logical, but with the real being defined first of all by reference to God the source of all being and the logical (λογικό) being defined by the Eternal Logos (λόγος) that is the ultimate reason for all that was, is, and ever will be. So on the one hand, we can accept that life is not fair and get along the best we can. On the other hand, we can try to recognize God’s providential care in every circumstance of our daily life.  In either case, we set aside the perspective of those beliefs we acquired as children about the behavior of others and begin to interpret life from another perspective, that of scientific objectivity about people being difficult or that of our collaboration with God in the work of our salvation.

Cognitive therapists correctly point out that irrational beliefs may provoke anger when they are contradicted in actual daily life.   The manual authors write, “Beliefs underlying anger often take the form of ‘should’ and ‘must.’ Most of us may agree, for example, that respecting others is an admirable quality. Our belief might be, “People should always respect others.” In reality, however, people often do not respect each other in everyday encounters. You can choose to view the situation more realistically as an unfortunate defect of human beings, or you can let your anger escalate every time you witness, or are the recipient of, another person’s disrespect. Unfortunately, your perceived disrespect will keep you angry and push you toward the explosion phase. Ironically, it may even lead you to show disrespect to others, which would violate your own fundamental belief about how people should be treated.”

Certainly, many Christians also have the belief, “People should always respect others,” a belief they see denied again and again. But above all, it is a belief that they see denied not only in the life of the Savior, but also in the lives of the Apostles, the Martyrs, and so many of the Saints. And yet, being disrespected did not mean that God’s beloved were alone or not blessed. God was always with them and they knew it. Through the remembrance of God, they were more accustomed to focus on themselves in their relationship to God rather than the behavior of others in their relationship with them. And through their mindfulness of Christ’s holy teachings, they became more adept at looking for the beam in their own eye (even if it were but a speck), rather than the speck in their brothers (even if it were in fact a beam).

The remembrance of God is a powerful interpretive tool through which we can choose to conduct our lives. Through it, we will tend to be less concerned with the actions of others and begin to perceive their actions, even their bad actions, as an opportunity to grow in grace and communion with God.  The “should” and “must” statements are now seen as “Thou-shalt-not’s” directed towards ourselves, rather than to others.  In the Gospel, Christ didn’t say that everyone else must be perfect.  Rather, he said, “Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And the remembrance of God, the source of all perfection, is the beginning of our perfection as well.

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