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Every parent has been in this movie: when children don’t get their way, or when the frustrations and pain of this life overwhelm them, kids sometimes lose it.
Whether you call it a hissy fit or a meltdown or a freak-out or flying off the handle or going ballistic, we’ve all experienced children’s flailing, screaming temper tantrums.
Somehow, though, when children grow and mature, they normally find ways to manage those temper tantrums and channel their anger and rage into more constructive behavior. As adults, of course, we’re expected to have that skill completely mastered—to know how to avoid losing our tempers. A small child, after all, can’t do much damage when they fly off the handle; but an enraged adult certainly can.
The Baha’i teachings ask all adults not to lose their tempers or give in to feelings of rage:
Ye are the dawning-places of the love of God and the daysprings of His loving-kindness. Defile not your tongues with the cursing and reviling of any soul, and guard your eyes against that which is not seemly. Set forth that which ye possess. If it be favourably received, your end is attained; if not, to protest is vain. Leave that soul to himself and turn unto the Lord, the Protector, the Self-Subsisting. Be not the cause of grief, much less of discord and strife. – Baha’u’llah, The Most Holy Book, pp. 91-92.
Psychologists view anger and rage in children as a normal human developmental inability to process and fully understand emotions or life experience. Generated chiefly by frustration, a child’s anger can spill over into a temper tantrum because of insufficient emotional coping mechanisms—or because of a temporary loss of emotional resilience as the result of emotional or physical trauma. The raw emotions of a temper tantrum, whether in children or adults, generally come about because of a multiplicity of feelings the person just can’t express or articulate.
Adults, the Baha’i teachings say, have to find ways to react to the traumas and pressures of life with equanimity, understanding and detachment:
Man must become evanescent and self-denying. Then all the difficulties and hardships of the world will not touch him. He will become like unto a sea, although on its surface the tempest is raging and the mountainous waves rising, in its depth there is complete calmness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 185.
As Abdu’l-Baha said, anger is a two-edged sword—if we let it control us, it can destroy; but if we master it, and turn it to good use, it can benefit the world, and benefit our souls, too. When we feel our anger rising inside, we each have a decision to make—to channel it into destructive rage or into constructive determination.
We know that anger and rage at unfairness and subjugation can increase our resolve to end it, to seek a redress of legitimate grievances, to promote social justice. In fact, the civil rights movement and the women’s movement and many other global campaigns for fairness and equality all began with legitimate anger. Instead of turning destructive, however, those drives toward justice channeled anger into constructive change. Rather than ending in aggression and harm, peaceful movements for progressive causes can transmute anger into activism.
That’s our challenge as adults—to see injustice, to get mad, and then to transmute our anger into constructive efforts to do something to bring about justice.
How do we do that? We can start, the Baha’i teachings recommend, by recognizing that our own opinions are not necessarily the only valid ones:
In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one.
Therefore it is imperative that we should renounce our own particular prejudices and superstitions if we earnestly desire to seek the truth. Unless we make a distinction in our minds between dogma, superstition and prejudice on the one hand, and truth on the other, we cannot succeed. When we are in earnest in our search for anything we look for it everywhere. This principle we must carry out in our search for truth. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 136-137.
After that important realization takes place, we can transform anger into action through a sincere, long-lasting commitment to bring about justice in the world:
We must look upon our enemies with a sin-covering eye and act with justice when confronted with any injustice whatsoever, forgive all, consider the whole of humanity as our own family, the whole earth as our own country, be sympathetic with all suffering, nurse the sick, offer a shelter to the exiled, help the poor and those in need, dress all wounds and share the happiness of each one. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 41.