February 25 – Governing temper

“If a person doesn’t govern his temper, his temper will govern him.” (John Maxwell)

I have a temper. At times in my life it has been quite a fiery temper, and has gotten me into some trouble. As it turns out, I have the un-holy trinity of personality traits – a volatile temper, a long memory, and a bull-headed stubbornness. While I am not able to sit here and say that it is completely “governed” by me, it is in far more control than it once was. One thing I have learned in controlling my temper is that the length of my fuse is greatly influenced by how well I am dealing with things generally in life, and my overall stress level.

Two years ago, right at about this time of year, I was working in my team room at work. A woman came to have a meeting with me to discuss a process change that was happening which would have the effect of altering how I did part of my job. This woman is one of the sweetest, nicest people in our building. She is a cancer survivor, always has a kind word, and is encouraging of all around her. She had a difficult assignment to get people like me to change how we did our jobs. It wasn’t a big change, but it was a change nonetheless.

I don’t remember the exact circumstances of the morning she came to visit. I recall that my plate was very full of work, and I was trying to keep everyone who had demands on my time happy. Heap on top of all that the fact that it was winter, and I hadn’t been out in sunshine in a while, and the conditions were right for a 3 alarm meltdown.

We had the meeting, and I thought that the process change was ill-conceived, and half-baked. I didn’t believe that the right metrics were being monitored and that this change would only make things worse. On a good day I would have calmly stated my case, then taken time to understand the change, and gotten on with my life. But not that day. In the short space of about 30 minutes I devolved into a world-class a-hole with her. I raised my voice, called the process a dud, and told her she was being dogmatic to it rather than using her professional judgment. She never once flinched, raised her voice or engaged me.

After she left I was sitting at my desk and realized I was actually shaking. What had I just done? I was nearly sick with anger – now pointed toward myself. I went through the rest of the day, and did my best to be productive on all my tasks, but inside I was churning. When I got home I told my wife what had happened. She told me she wasn’t surprised because my fuse had been short around the house for weeks. I hadn’t realized it, but I had lost the governance of my temper.

The next day I went and apologized to the woman. I told her that I was completely wrong in what I had said and done, and I offered to help her in any way I could to get the message out to others. She smiled, and thanked me for coming to see her.

Over the next year I spent a lot of time working on what had led to that morning. Today I am in far more control of my temper and its effects on my life. Not to say it doesn’t still raise its ugly head from time to time, but now when it does it is short lived, and not nearly as destructive.

For me, anger and temper are a side effect of my overall passion in life.  I tend to feel all of my emotions rather intensely. Some of those emotions – love, joy, peace – are very socially acceptable and virtuous. But, when the ugly cousins of anger, frustration and resentment creep in, I have to take action.

This morning I am reflecting on the balance of my emotions. It’s easy to sit and say I have all the pieces in the right place, but I might also have thought that on the fateful morning two years ago.

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