A long-time colleague of mine passed away recently; a man with whom I had worked for several years at a school back in Canada. Famous for his temper, he was both reviled and feared by students and colleagues alike. Yet, as is often the case when we examine such people, the Lord was able to teach me much about my own temper through this man. By his example I saw more clearly how odious my own bouts of intemperance were, and how destructive to the self-esteem of others.

My father had a nasty temper. He had been an officer in the war, rising to major before its end, and he was used to giving orders and being obeyed. He was not easily provoked, but once inflamed, he was not to be trifled with. My mother was strong-willed and selfish, and liked things to go her way. Between the two of them, our house was rarely peaceful. Understandably, my siblings and I grew up with anger management issues. Accepting Christ at 27 should have taken care of that issue for me. But as anyone who has come to Christ as an adult will tell you, there is a lot of baggage to attend to. Basically it takes you a lifetime.

My situation was complicated by the fact that in this profession, at least in North America, a little anger is a useful tool. Every student will tell you that a teacher’s stare is his or her best weapon. That stare has to contain more than a hint of menace to be effective. A hallway scolding is often necessary to rein in unruly students. Yard duty is not for wimps. In all of these ways, anger is reinforced as a useful part of a teacher’s personality. One of the things about teaching in Asia that I am most grateful for is the complete absence of any discipline issues. Students here are respectful and polite. There is no need for anger; in fact in this climate it would be almost unforgiveably rude.

I have always taught my children that anger is sometimes necessary to define boundaries and prevent others from treating you disrespectfully. But lately I have begun to question the wisdom of my own advice. More and more I see anger as an impediment to personal growth in my faith, and a barrier to effective and peaceable relationships with others. Yesterday I had a further reminder of that insight. Someone who I considered a friend thought it necessary to unload a barrage of his anger on me. To be honest I was too shocked to respond, and merely allowed him to exhaust himself, being as mild and inoffensive in my own manner as the situation allowed. He stomped away, muttering invectives under his breath, and I was moved to reflect upon his unexpected behaviour.

I will confess to being upset, and somewhat upbraided myself for not responding more forcefully. But then I noted that I seem to be losing my appetite for a response in kind. Rather, I felt sad for the man for not getting better control of his thoughts and his emotions. It seems to me that he has become smaller in my sight, and more immature, like an adolescent who is upset at not getting his own way. In whatever direction our relationship now goes, it will be coloured by his outburst, and I will be less trusting and open with him in the future. I now view him as unreliable and unbalanced.

This I see is the true cost of anger. A dear friend and former colleague has written elsewhere (http://corrinaaustin.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/on-being-nice) about the cost of kindness. Kindness is costly, it is true. But there are compensations for acts of kindness, and a resulting growth in character. The cost of anger seems to me higher, with fewer compensations, and a loss, rather than a growth in character.

I regret that it has taken me so long to recognize what others have understood at a much earlier age, and hope that my ignorance on this issue hasn’t doomed my children to misunderstanding on this aspect of their relationships with others. Nor do I think that I have yet learned all that I need to learn on this issue, at least I hope not. The Bible says that the wrath of man does not accomplish the will of God (James 1:20). In the end I think this is the greatest cost of all.