Saturday, February 21, 2015

Calming the Storm

Why are people so angry? Fuses seem to be short these days. Everywhere you look, someone is lashing out at someone else. What is it in the human psyche that makes folks want to attack others, even over the most trivial of matters? Social media has exacerbated the problem by providing the ability to assault people without looking them in the eye. We call it cyber-bullying and it is prolific in its spread.

Some people have been dealt a bad hand. Things go wrong beyond their control. The frustration can manifest itself in a sour disposition that affects those around them. That is to be expected. What I don’t understand is why so many others enjoy taking advantage of their misery. Is self-esteem is such short supply that some must belittle all others in order to feel superior?

A former coworker often talked about all of the bad experiences he had at restaurants. Almost every time he took his family out to eat, there was a problem. He would deliberately look for an excuse to get a meal discounted, and in the process, makes trouble for an often innocent waitress. Some people seek their happiness by inflicting misery on others. Years ago, another man I knew liked to say things to stun or belittle associates during meetings. He tried to validate his own perceived superiority by casting dispersions on any competing ideas.

We have all felt that little rush of rage that suddenly surges through the body when someone says or does something we do not like. Do we explode, or take a breath and remain calm? True discipline means taking this as an opportunity to diffuse a volatile situation by distancing ourselves from the dramatic component, being a peacemaker when a situation could turn ugly.

I was listening to one of Bishop Sheen’s talks on the Anxiety of Life where he spoke of many people lacking a meaning and purpose of life that prevents them from ever finding happiness. He calls it an existential neurosis, an anxiety of living they experience because they only live for themselves. Bishop Sheen says even telling them to pray will not help those who have an existential neurosis because they are presently too far away from prayer for it to be effective. The cure? He tells them to go out and help their neighbors. Love people who they see. Visit the sick. Help the poor.

We ordinarily interact with a number of people in our daily routine. Each time is an opportunity to spread a little love. It might be a smile, or a cheerful hello. It might be offering encouragement to someone who is having a bad day. We seldom know what may be going on in the lives of those we meet. What we perceive as rude indifference might be caused by a painful distraction. Even when dealing with someone who is incompetent, kindness is more likely to improve the experience than a rude retort. Be understanding. Show restraint.

Go the extra mile by actually seeking out those who need a break. Do something to brighten the day of someone who is struggling. Welcome situations where you may be wronged as opportunities to show forgiveness. Treat others mercifully when they fall short of your expectations. Meet conflict with calm, patience, and a kind word. St. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience.” (1Tim 1:15-16) Let that be a Lenten model for us all.