Anger, Healthy Choices And The Holidays

“His anger was offensive. He ought to be more considerate.  It is a choice.  After all, it is Thanksgiving!”

“Why can’t she be thoughtful about the fact that I want the kids on Christmas eve?”

“When are my parents going to realize that I have to think about my spouse’s parents, too.  They want to see their grand kids on Christmas morning also!”

We all have a sense for how people should behave.  When they behave differently than our expectations we have choices to make about how we are going to process their choices and react.  Part of the challenge is discerning between those matters that are under our control and those that are not under our control.  Covey calls these ‘Circles of Influence.” The prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr, often recited in recovery group meetings can be helpful:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. 
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time; 
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; 
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; 
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next. Amen.

 God has gifted each of us with rational minds that can make choices that are logical and defensible.  He has not equipped us with the ability to cause others to think rationally and to make logical and defensible decisions.  Speaking only of probabilities, we can influence others–to the extent that they allow us to do so–but, in the end, everyone must make their choices and deal with the consequences of those decisions.

Just because someone reacts negatively to my logical and rational decision to allow relatives to enjoy Christmas morning every other year with their grandchildren does not mean that I must give in to their overreaction.  In fact, it makes sense to be even more determined to address the issue equitably rather than to give in so that everyone understands that your decision is not to be based upon pressure and fear.  It is an attempt to work from a position of common sense and rational  Peace at all costs often leads to more wars and conflict because people realize that getting what they want is tied to how strongly they react, no matter how illogical and unreasonable their position.  The desire to avoid conflict, in itself, can plant the seeds for further conflict rather than bring about the desired effect of reducing it.

In the end, the only prescription may be to do the right thing insofar as you can do so with objectivity and follow through with your decision, giving others the freedom to decide how they wish to respond.  You may be surprised to realize that they respect your decisions and appreciate the lack of mixed messages that often come with pressured choices and vacillating principles.

In the end, the best way to move through some of those tough choices can begin with three steps.  1) Take a moment to consider the most logical and equitable choice.  2) Discern between those things over which you have control in contrast to those over which you do not have control.  3) Count the cost and be ready to face the consequences of your choices and the irrational reactions you may have to face.  These three simple steps may be an important part of bringing peace and harmony to those tough times for families during the holidays…or they may not.  The key, in the end, may be that you considered the options and made a decision for which you were prepared to deal with the consequences.  In other words, you did the best you could under the circumstances.

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