David:  When I was a teenager, I used to drive fast through the neighborhood.  One lady called me up and verbally attacked me, yelling, even swearing.  I told her I was not speeding, but whenever I saw her I would speed up because I was angry at her.


Later, another neighbor called.  He said, “I know you have a little niece and two nephews and you love them and want them to be safe.”  I agreed.  He said, “That is all I want for my kids.  Can you and your friends driving on the street slow down, please?”  I said, “I see where you are coming from.  I would never want anything to happen to any of the kids.” I slowed down and told my friends to slow down too.


Start with your attitude.  Recall that an angry person has some reason for their anger and look for their unmet need.  People who feel threatened protect themselves.  If you can remember that this person is always trying to get needs met, you will approach them with a different energy. 


Anger is contagious; so is compassion.  Without noticing it, you often absorb and respond in kind to the feelings of people around you.  (This is called “emotional mirroring.”)  You are often unaware of how your feelings and words influence the behavior of others.  Much of the work in this chapter is focused on turning down the invitation to join another person in being angry, and instead becoming the one who sets the energy tone.  When it becomes habitual for you to look for the needs that underlie all actions, you can issue others a strong counter-invitation. 


When a person is angry, even threatening, listening carefully and respectfully can be a useful, calming action.  Listen, reflect minimally, and then listen some more.  Remember that when someone’s mouth is full of words, they cannot hear you.  Can you bring yourself to a solid listening mode?  Our attitude offers a strong invitation to the angry person to regain their composure.



What if they are angry at you specifically?



Listen.  Get your best translating skills out and hear through any criticism or judgments they put out.  Focus on their feelings, needs, and requests.  Ask for specific observations with a non-defensive attitude.  “When you say I am being unfair, can you help me understand exactly what you mean?  What do I do that you see as unfair?”  If the other person can’t or won’t give specifics, guess and check it out with them.  Your willingness to try hard to understand their complaint opens a door for resolving an issue.  It does not mean you share their point of view.  But it further tangles a situation when you disagree before you even know what it is they are angry about and what it is they are requesting be changed.  Remember to not counterattack, and to not change the subject. 


Agree with any part of what they say that is true.  Start by agreeing with the facts, “You are right, I did get pretty sarcastic.”  “Yes, I am an hour late.”  When you let go of your desire to appear perfect at all times, you will find more ease in admitting your behavior that you do not particularly respect.  If it is unclear, ask what it is they would like to see happen in the future and promise to think on it.  You likely have reasons you were sarcastic or late.  Save the surrounding facts that may justify or mitigate your behavior for a second conversation. 

Anger is contagious; so is compassion.  Perhaps it would bring you deep satisfaction to start an epidemic of compassion going.  In the movie, Pay It Forward, the main character deliberately sets off a chain reaction of doing unexpected kind deeds with the request to pay it forward, rather than to pay it back.  Another such effort is the bumper sticker:  “Practice random acts of kindness.”



CONTAGIOUS COMPASSION:  Describe a time you have offered, experienced, or seen an unexpected act of kindness that moved others.












Laurie:  Early this semester, I was clashing regularly with my mother.  It was awful.  We went to a few therapy sessions together.  We both felt the other was not hearing us.  I honestly thought that she did not care for me, that she wanted me to feel hurt.  Boy, was I wrong—she really does love me!  We just have different styles of communicating.  I am an emotional person who can become explosive when I am upset and she is the opposite. 


I finally saw that when I communicated with explosions, she felt as though she was walking into a lion’s den and immediately shut down.  I want to remember that blaming her for my feelings and yelling at her is a big waste of energy.  When I stay in my anger, I am disconnected from myself, my mother, and my life. 


Recently I read a treatise of instructions for dealing with anger.  It was written in the eleventh century by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher in the Kadampa tradition to his students studying to become Buddhist monks.  (No, I did not read the original!  I found a translation in The Places That Scare You by Pema Chodron, a contemporary Buddhist.) 


The first instruction is to avoid setting up the target for the arrow.  The more we launch our anger and aggression into the world, the more we set ourselves up as a target for arrows of anger to come our way.  In modern terms, we invite blowback.  (The Wiki definition of blowback is “negative effect suffered from one’s own weapons.”) 


In what ways do you set yourself up as a target for other’s arrows?


This teaching goes on to recall that even if we feel fear in the face of another person’s anger, we can still reach for that place inside ourselves that sees the other person’s action as a cry for help.



Avoid setting up a target

for the arrow.