Seven Things I Learned From Losing My Temper

I lost my temper yesterday.

I shouldn't have, and I truly regret it. But the fact is I did.

It is rare for me to go volcanic. It almost never happens. People who have known me for ten years, even fifteen or twenty years, will tell you the closest they have seen me approach it is mild irritation. Fortunately they were not at my side yesterday.

The particulars are unimportant. Suffice to say my inbox overfloweth with emails. One of yesterday's emails, spam from a complete stranger who appeared to be the weakest volt on the Internet, was just the stupidest thing I had ever read. It was idiotic.

Here was someone pretending to be wise who was emphatically insisting that reading literature was a waste of time. Apparently a STEM fanatic, he all but said literature was useless in today's world.

Now, I like to read. As I write these words I am midway through War and Peace. I have learned a great deal from books over the course of my life, and I am convinced that the liberal arts are the best path to a lifetime of wisdom, depth, insight, relational health, and critical thought. You can imagine my ire on reading the email in question.

I dashed off a suitable, polite note expressing a strong preference to be permanently removed from his distribution list. A minute later I received a surly reply. If there's one thing I don't want and don't need before my second cup of coffee it's surly.

So I called the guy, and I let him know that he wasn't the only surly person in the world. Boy, did I ever.

I got my point across, but I truly regret using some harsh language. (No, not profanity, which is a particular irritant to me. But I did use the words "Listen, buddy.")

In the hours since, I have calmed down enough to analyze things. What did I learn?

First, just chill. Of all the problems around the world, whatever is angering you isn't much. In all likelihood it doesn't even register on the angerometer. (Don't look it up. I just coined it.)

Second, think. Ask yourself: What is the simplest course of action at hand to accomplish what you want to accomplish? For me it was clicking on the Unsubscribe link. Did I do that? Of course not. I wasn't thinking, and besides, it wouldn't allow me to let off steam. But I should have.

Third, whenever you have steam coming out of your ears, the telephone is not necessarily your friend. The lack of face-to-face contact creates a sense of anonymity. While that's true for email as well, at least email gives you a chance to express yourself rationally at length without interruption, and tone of voice is immaterial.

Fourth, and this is true for every email you write, enter the addressee's name and email address only after you have finished writing and are ready to send the message. (If it's a reply, erase the name and address before you begin to compose the response.) Enter a descriptive word or phrase in the Subject: line to identify the message in your drafts folder, but leave the address line empty. That way, if you send the email prematurely, it won't go anywhere. That is triply true when you writing to your boss or your team, and it is quadruply true when negative emotion is involved.

Fifth, whenever possible, and it usually is, don't send an email immediately upon completing it. Instead, save it in your drafts folder, at least for several hours and preferably for the next day, so that you can read it with fresh eyes. When you re-read it, do so out loud. Crisply read and pronounce each and every word. Look for misspellings (and do NOT trust a computerized spellchecker), clumsy phrasing, hollow arguments, overlooked facts, and anything else that would ultimately weaken your message.

Sixth, emotional intelligence is every bit as important as intellectual intelligence. By emotional intelligence, I mean genuinely appreciating and invoking such critical relational dynamics as empathy, self-awareness, respect, dignity, safety, affirmation, and self-discipline, for starters. It's one thing to have an intellectual grasp of those dynamics. It's quite another to have them at the core of your personality and character.

Seventh, there's an awful lot of stupid out there, and there seems to be more every day. Just ignore it. The universe will let it settle at the bottom, where it belongs.

Thanks for reading. I feel better already.

I welcome your thoughts in response to these essays. If you have an idea for a future essay, so much the better. You can reach me at