The world seems to be a pretty angry place more and more, and it can be easy to fall into the snare of that poisonous mindset, as anger feeds on itself like wildfire if we allow it to. That is not the kind of life I choose to lead, as it feels so counterproductive and foreign to me. It has me considering the strength it takes to turn from anger, and the many perceptions of what true strength is. There is the obvious physical power of a person, but that is far from the most important. Perhaps the more valuable strengths a person can have lie in resilience, spirit, and character; those qualities that enable us to rise above pettiness, anger, and ignorance, helping us to choose the high road in the challenging situations that we face.
I grew up the daughter of a Southern woman, a true steel magnolia. I can’t help but think of my mother when I think of strength, a woman who faced tragedy, heartache, and poverty over and over throughout her long life. I watched her cry, then pick herself up, put on some powder, lipstick, and a dash of hairspray and face the world with a smile. She never said unkind words to people, no matter how angry or hurt she might have been. Some might see that as weakness, but I beg to differ. It takes strength and compassion to know when the words we say will help or heal, or when they will simply make us feel better in the moment but do lasting damage to people or relationships. Mom’s superpower was knowing when to hold her tongue, to think of the bigger picture, realizing that words have great power and can never be taken back once unleashed.
I try to live by the example set by my mom. I am quiet and reserved, and when I am upset by something it takes me time to process and sort through my feelings before I can truly understand and articulate them. I am so very far from perfect, but I learned from Mom and from painful experience to never to speak in anger, and to always consider the impact my words will have on others, whether it be my husband, a colleague, a student, a friend, or a stranger I encounter in the course of a day. There is a time when anger is a healthy response, certainly, but it never fails that when I let my emotions cool down first, I’m able to better understand which battles are worth fighting, and which are best entrusted to a diary, a close friend, or a therapist. No matter how quiet and deferential I may seem to some, I know deep inside that I am strong like my mother; no matter what has knocked me to my knees in life, I have always gotten back up, readjusted my sails and my attitude, and faced the world with a smile and a kind word. I hope to always do that to honor my mother’s memory, and because it is a life philosophy that truly resonates with me.
I’m a big believer that we get back from the Universe what we put out there; we can choose to see the world through a filter of compassion and kindness, or approach life with a short fuse that robs us of a second chance to say what we might have said after a bit of thoughtful consideration. So many of us are walking around like powder kegs ready to blow at the slightest provocation, and I refuse to live that way. Instead, I hope to bring a softer side to my interactions with people as my mother did, doing my little part to help calmer heads and hearts prevail.
There are always going to be things in the world and in our relationships that bring us to the brink of anger, but there are more ways to deal with those emotions than just surrendering to the most base expressions of that anger. We can choose to be empathetic, happy, and joyful, or we can look for reasons to be angry and generally unhappy with the world, seeing our ‘side’ as the only correct one…something that is rarely true, if ever. I’m not a big believer in sides anyway, preferring to remember that we’re all ultimately on the same team- the human team, typically doing the best we can with the tools we have at the time. That perspective helps me to think before I speak my mind, something that I have never regretted doing.