Let me fess up. Prior to writing this piece, I did a google search: difference between anger and temper. I was directed to a site called differencebetween.info (what a name!) that spelled it out lucidly that temper is an “expression of anger.” I am glad that I listened to the dormant dork that resides within me and googled this because I was letting quite a few thoughts stew in my mind over the past few days. On a relaxed Sunday afternoon, I was digging through old papers and sundries on the floor of my basement closet, determined to create enough space to walk through the area! I found an old group photograph from a high-school excursion from September 1997. That made me whiz along the twisting and turning lanes of my memory, a la a sports car on a winding road. Looking agape at that horror of a picture, I wondered how impossibly large my glasses were, not to mention my waist size. I was amused that the cleverest thing that a classmate could do was to put his hand above and behind another friend’s head and strike a ‘rettai elai’ pose as though he was campaigning for the AIADMK! So yes, I did smile to myself. But no, it was not just a sweet nostalgic moment. I simply put the snap in a pile of papers. It was the stack of papers that I was going to throw into the trashcan. Not the set of papers that I wanted to retain.
As I walked upstairs to the living room, I wanted that 'car' to zip back to the present as quickly as possible. It was because I don’t think I enjoyed the memory of how I was as a person. It was an age where I thought that it was perfectly fine to lose my temper. No, I have never hurt anyone physically. And yes, I was a pampered but not insensitive kid; I was taught by my family to apologize when the blame rested squarely on my shoulders. “But everyone has flaws,” I would say to myself. “And, a short fuse is my shortcoming. Those who love me will accept it.” I would apologize quite sincerely when I made a mistake but I would move on. But 20 years down the line, I can still hear the unpleasant sound of my screaming at a classmate (who was in that snap) who took great delight in needling me persistently. Even now, I can almost feel my ears vibrate as a result of that high pitched shriek of mine. But here’s the strange feeling that I experienced. I wondered whether I was ever nice to him. Anger might have been what I felt when he may have said something hurtful or unsavory but why could I never find a better “expression” than temper to convey that? Well, let that memory be consigned to the trash can, as the car zooms by to 2007.
2007 was the year that I started doing yoga. Rest assured that I am not going to pontificate on the benefits of yoga. But I will share an analogy that a yoga practitioner once shared with me. He said, “Imagine that you are on an interstate and you are traveling at 80 miles an hour. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you see a truck coming at you in the opposite direction, traveling in the wrong lane! You start pressing on your brake and realize that the brake isn’t working! Is that when you take your car to a mechanic? No, you need your car to be a well-oiled machine. Similarly…” Well, you catch his drift. I share this because I use to have this ill-informed belief that at the moment that I was going to erupt, if I could manage to somehow count to five or delay my response that I could manage to keep my temper in check. Let me just say that the car was clearly crashing into a truck quite often and insurance rates were skyrocketing! (Not literally, thankfully!)
I can’t claim enough knowledge of meditation to establish a causative relationship. But a reasonably healthy diet and regular meditation have been integral parts of my life over the past few years. Keeping my temper in check (for the most part) allows me to love my near and dear more deeply, more thoughtfully, more gently. As mushy as it may sound, to lavish my loved ones with kind words and meaningful gestures is something that means a lot to me. If temper is a barricade in that journey that I share with my family and friends, then the least that I can do is to put my brakes on at the right time and swerve around it. And, yoga might not be your cup of tea. But I do sincerely believe that some sort of a sustained, disciplined method to focus on the self is a necessary ingredient of temper control.
I have purposely avoided mentioning the triggers of my temper because that is besides the point. The triggers are excuses. I would like to believe that irrespective of the trigger, my reactive expression cannot be one involving temper. There are things that make me angry. Recently, I was in a group setting where I was working on something for a good 25-30 minutes and when I was finished, someone in the group loudly cracked a crude joke (an admittedly funny one, I must say) about what I had worked on, even if the output was very well received by everyone (including that person). I must say that I did not enjoy the joke at that moment. I was quite peeved. I thought that it was neither respectful nor sensitive. But I just smiled faintly while others laughed. The laughter subsided soon and everyone carried on with their business. But the hurt lingered for a while. Between asking myself whether I was being too touchy and questioning my own silence, I just walked away with at least a sense of satisfaction that I didn’t behave like a killjoy, puncturing the lightness of the atmosphere that resulted from the joke.
I repeat to myself what Dr. Sheena Iyengar wrote to me (see my write-up if interested) when she signed her book (“The Art of Choosing”) for me. “Be choosy about choosing and you will choose well.” I just have to choose and prioritize what is truly meaningful to me. If someone gives me grief on something that I consider a core element of my being, then I have the right to become angry, even if I don’t have the license to lose my temper. Instead, what would be more apropos would be a mature conversation that addresses what disturbed, bothered or offended me. Anything outside the realm of those core elements is just not worth losing sleep over. Life is too short. Life is too precious for that. I know that I have some ways to go before I can consider myself completely free of any temper control issues. But at the very least, I do respect the periodic maintenance that the car needs, in order to enjoy the pleasure of the ride that I am on, with those that gift me the bounty of their affections. After all, being in the driver’s seat is not only a privilege but also a responsibility.
My conversation with Anu Hasan on the triggers of temper: