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Why Am I Angry?

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?”

(Psalm 42:5)

A few years ago, I was returning from a meeting out of state and was driving onto a major highway on the outskirts of Philadelphia. As I hurried along in my truck onto this roadway (I never speed. I only ‘hurry along’) I noticed the image of an impassioned fellow driver in a small Japanese sedan approaching in my right mirror - growing larger by the second as he was speeding up alongside me in an urgent manner.

My sense was that he wanted to express to me as a fellow driver his desire for all mankind – “PEACE!” He even signaled this beautiful sentiment to me with his left hand, but as he sped past me and cut into the lane in front of me it occurred to me that the “PEACE” sign that he flashed to me was incomplete in that it lacked his index finger – leaving only one digit in the middle of his left hand for me to ponder. I must admit that this kind man’s gesture was confusing. Why was it so urgent for him to signal “PEACE” to me on the highway? Why did he cut me off in a manner that seemed at odds with his humanitarian gesture? And why was he in such a hurry that he couldn’t manage to finish his ‘Peace’ sign with two fingers instead of just one? As I pondered these perplexing anthropological dilemmas it occurred to me:

“I don’t think that fella was wishing me “PEACE” at all!”

This event struck me. Why was this man so angry? Even if I was driving in a manner that he didn’t like, was it worth him driving so recklessly? What was gained in his expression of apparent road rage? And what could’ve happen had I became equally angry? As offense and outrage began to rise in my soul, I checked myself. This was HIS bad day – not mine. And not only was my Dodge Ram bigger than his Japanese compact – I could be bigger than this man as well - by not reciprocating his demeanor. I adopted this attitude even as he tauntingly continued to wish me “Half-Peace” while driving away. Whatever this man’s reasons for road rage – I am certain that it did not begin with me.

We live in an unprecedented time of unfiltered catharsis of our most raw collective emotions. No matter what a person feels – they can express it to an audience almost instantly. While technology and social media are marvelous human advances – I fear that these dual phenomena distract us away from our core task of self-reflection. Almost no one knows how he or she really feels because we are so busy posting our impulses. Very few engage in critical thinking because we tend to watch news channels, read blogs or exclusively connect with people, places and things that mirror our own under-examined perspectives.

In Psalm 42:5, the Psalmist got it right by asking the most essential of mental health questions:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?”

The Psalmist doesn’t lash out at an unwitting stranger or post his complaints to the masses. He assumes that his upset stems from somewhere within the confines of his own inner world rather than his outer surroundings. Benjamin Franklin once said: “Let thy discontents be thy secrets.” Wise. Both the Psalmist and Franklin understood that our unfiltered emotions, thoughts and impulses are rarely ready for human consumption. We need time to self-reflect – a skill that is rapidly becoming a relic of a distant past.

So when you feel angry, offended, sad or hurt. Don’t assume that the culprit is the Big Black Man in The Big Black Truck beside you on the highway of life. Check yourself first. And then hold up a “PEACE” sign … With TWO fingers.

- PJ

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