Due to a road trip, I was unable to post my Philosophy Friday before today. Here, then, is this week's edition.
Anger is something that feels out of our control; however, this is not entirely true. Sure, as humans, we have emotional reactions to events that are what we would call “knee-jerk.” Many schools of thought preach how dangerous it is to “suppress” anger, so how else are we supposed to respond when we get mad other than unleashing our rage on the world?
There is another option: allowing the anger to simmer until it cools off – then acting accordingly. Here’s an example of what I mean:
My parents decided to switch over to DirecTV last weekend because it offered them a better option for the upcoming baseball season. They could buy the “Sports Package,” which included Comcast Chicago. This, the official network of the Chicago Cubs, would broadcast some 85 games for only $7.99 a month! Or so they thought.
When ordering his new package, the salesman told my father he would indeed get CSN Chicago, which “carries most Cubs games,” but he failed to note in the fine print that live broadcasts would only be available to viewers in the local market.
Flash-forward to four days later, when I tried to turn on a Blackhawks game and find out it is blacked out. Only then did my dad realize that he was not going to see a Cubs regular season game on this network. Talk shows, highlight shows, specials – those were part of the package. Once a game started – BLACKOUT.
I could see my dad’s jaw tighten as he tried to keep the smoke from coming out of his ears.
He called DirecTV to vent. And boy did he let them have it.
Now, was his anger justified? Sure. He had been told one thing, signed a contract, and received something else. That would make anyone mad. But did he have to allow the anger to dictate his response? You tell me.
First, it was Charles, who sat on the other end of the phone while my dad explained to him that Daniel (the original salesman – a man who, I’m sure, has never heard of Charles) was a bald-faced liar.
“He told me I’m getting all of the Cubs games – it seems like he lied to me.”
Of course, Daniel and Charles work for DirecTV – not Major League Baseball – so neither had any idea how the contracts between major sports organizations and satellite companies functioned.
“Shouldn’t they know that?!” my dad said to me.
“I don’t know. Maybe you’re right.”
After Charles tried apologizing to no avail, he admitted he couldn’t help my dad and passed him off to Agent #3: Gracie.
My dad decided it would be fun to give Gracie the old switcheroo. He pretended that he had never actually ordered DirecTV in the first place. A poor-man’s sting operation was in full effect. He started from the beginning, trying to trap Gracie into re-telling the original “lie.”
“So I’ll get Comcast Chicago?”
“So I’ll get all the Cubs games they broadcast?”
“Now YOU’RE lying to me just like Daniel.”
Gracie, confused and defensive, passed my dad off to Adam. The pattern continued, with no productive result.
As I sat watching this fruitless game of “pass-the-buck” continue, I finally asked my dad: “What’s your goal?” He wasn’t going to get the Cubs games on CSN. DirecTV couldn’t do anything about MLB policy. He also wasn’t going to get Daniel or Gracie fired – which seemed to have replaced the Cubs games as his prime directive.
While on hold, phone pressed to his ear, he considered my question but had trouble coming up with an answer.
Obviously, he felt taken advantage of and wanted reparations. To a large extent, he had been taken advantage of. He would not have ordered DirecTV to begin with had he known about the contractual obligations of MLB. Yet, he also didn’t consider that this could have been an honest misunderstanding for all parties involved.
To those of you who know my father, you know he’s an intelligent, patient man. But anger has a way of overpowering admirable qualities and blinding a person to empathy. For the near-hour that my dad ranted and raved to anyone with working ears at DirecTV, he failed to consider that his problem may have been out of the purview of even his initial salesman. Rather than working productively to solve the issue, it kept spiraling into a futile jousting match of “lies, lies, lies” from one representative to the next. I don’t want this. I want something else. I don’t like this. It was – like most anger – an exhibition in ego.
However, once he became so flustered that his only option was to hand the phone to me, he saw a different approach. Now, I’m not saying that I am – in any way – better than my dad or anyone else at handling anger. It was not my cable bill – nor was I the one who had been swindled – so it was far easier for me to detach and handle the conversation with mild amusement. I explained to Stephanie (Agent #5 at this point) that I believed the problem was a mix-up, and all my father wanted was to cancel the service. As I expected, she, too, was unaware of contractual overlaps. When she finally understood the issue rather than the anger, she apologized and vowed to rectify the situation the best she could. This is when my dad said, “I can take it from here.”
Uh-oh, I thought. Here we go again.
But my dad had calmed down. He finally was allowing logic and reason (two of his strengths, usually) to dictate his conversation with the agent instead of emotion. He was focused on proactive solutions rather than reactive outbursts. No longer were his words provoking or eliciting defensive remarks. Instead, the two discussed what could be done to address the actual problem.
And that’s when something beautiful happened. I was sitting across the room and saw my dad’s eyebrows jump up in surprise.
“Wow,” he said. “That is more than I ever could have expected. Thank you.”
Stephanie, now speaking to a man whose voice was patient and understanding, had extended an olive branch: since nothing could be done to fix the CSN problem, what if they offered him MLB Extra Innings (i.e., every single MLB game in 2015) for free as compensation?
To recap, my dad thought he was going to get 85 Cubs games with Daniel’s “lie.” Now he’s getting 162.
How many problems could be solved if we switched our knee-jerk reactions of frustration and anger to thoughtful responses of compassion, empathy, and the awareness of the true nature of our circumstances?
In the end, as my dad sat back and praised the kindness of DirecTV representatives, I reminded him of the initial error. What he had viewed as “bad” and as worthy of his anger had ended up resulting in a much better situation than his original expectation. Had the mistake never occurred, he would have found only half the treasure that he ended up getting.
Buddha once said, “Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
My dad dropped the coal. Things worked out.
Keep that in mind the next time you get mad – even if its justified. Let the anger burn until it cools off. Move on with a smile.
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