In the “olden days”, you didn’t actually have to hang around me very long to discover this. In recent years, you might have to hang around for a least a month or three to figure it out — maybe longer if our contact is sporadic — although the tell-tale hints and clues might be apparent to you much sooner, if you are percipacious.
This weekend, I had an email interaction that touched off my “temper”. Ever since, I’ve been looking at that word — turning it over and over between my hands, and wondering about it.
“Having a temper” is more, in my opinion, than just experiencing the emotion we name as “mad”, or the octave of “mad” that we name as “anger”. It seems to have something to do, in my mind, with how I am perceived by others, and also, my willingness to express/communicate when I feel mad or angry.
At this point in my life, I make concerted effort not to hold in my “mad”, and a concerted effort to clear up my “anger” as soon as possible. This may actually be directly correlated to the fact that fewer people in my life now experience me as “having a temper” or being “temperamental” (and I want to be clear that, although I’m using these terms, I still haven’t figured out for myself exactly what they mean — they are words that I have heard used in reference to me, and words I have used in reference to myself — but I’m fully aware that I don’t really know what they mean).
At any rate, tonight, I feel mad and I’m also angry — I guess you could say that I’m “experiencing my temper” (whatever that means — again).
I got an email from someone who directly asked for my advice in a very specific way. I answered their question as clearly as I could, and they sent me back an email that said that this type of answer wasn’t what they were looking for (even though the type of answer they were looking for wasn’t even remotely indicated by the actual question that they had originally asked).
Here’s the “mad” part — the mild, immediate irritation of having someone ask me a question that seemed quite specific, which I answered quite specifically (and at length), and then receiving a response back from them that what they wanted was a general answer to a question that they never really asked.
The “mad” part of me wants to say, in a slightly testy voice: “Well, why not just ask the actual question that you wanted an answer for, rather than asking a question that I expend thought, energy and time on, which you don‘t actually want answered?”
The “anger” piece is this: This isn’t the first time that I’ve experienced this with this particular person. I’ve participated, willingly (whatever else I tell myself, I was a willing participant), actively, in a whole series of what I consider to be “bait and switch” interactions with them over a number of years (like, the better part of a decade?).
The “angry” part of me wants to say, in a drippingly sarcastic voice: “Well, if you’d actually ASKED me what you wanted to really KNOW from me, and if you didn’t want to LISTEN to my actual answer in the first place, why waste my time by inviting me into some sham about your ‘specific’ question, and then send me a disingenuous ‘thanks a lot but that didn’t really help me’ email when I fell for your scheme of engaging me, AGAIN, as you have so many times in the past, and in the future, why don’t you just FUCK OFF!?”
See the difference between “mad” and “angry” there?
Mad is Present/Now, and Anger is Past/Then with a twist of Fuck Off Into The Future. (Plus a whole lot of other not-so-subtle differences that have to do with the types of language that I choose when mad vs. angry.)
Just to let you know: I didn’t choose either of these expressions. Because my temper and I are in a quandary. I haven’t actually responded to the last email at all yet.
Honestly, this person is now grating all over my last good nerve.
As “temperamental” as I have been known-to-be, called, etc., this (getting on my last nerve) is actually pretty difficult to achieve. While I can be “hot-headed”, I am also extremely perserverant. I tend to hang in there and attempt to resolve things with other beings, human and otherwise, to a degree that many in our culture would call “inane” or “insane”.
So, I have chosen to wait to respond to what I consider to be a disingenuous and slightly “pokey” email. I’m still not sure how I will respond.
Just so you know — it’s not like I’m not tempted by the snotty, snarky, sarcastic approach — there is a part of me that would simply love to send an email like:
“Oh, I do apologize so sincerely for disappointing you. How could I have been so insensitive and thoughtless as to not have guessed what you wanted? I feel so bad about it. However can I make it up to you?
Perhaps . . . . by never responding to your soul-sucking attempts at psychic vampirism EVER AGAIN?!?!? Would that help?!?”
I include this fantasy response only for educational purposes, lest you think me some paragon of human virtue for whom these temptations do not arise. They DO arise for me. I AM tempted to do this.
But . . . And . . . I know where that leads, and I don’t want to go there. So I haven’t, except briefly, in my own head.
I’m writing about this because I think that some people think that being “enlightened” means that you are never even tempted to act like a dick-head. I don’t believe that this is true. I think that moving towards enlightenment is recognizing that the dick-head aspect of you is probably alive and kicking — present and accounted for — and recognizing that you have a choice about whether you simply acknowledge its presence and then act some other way, or surrender to the momentary exhilaration of unleashing your inner dick-head upon the world.
I am choosing, today, not unleash that little twerp, for a number of reasons:
- As I said, I already know the kind of messy highways that it inevitably leads me down.
- I half-suspect that the person involved at the other end of this communication would probably love it at some level if I went all ballistic on them, because my experience has been that they seem to thrive on and cultivate drama.
- The Best Reason, In My Opinion: It doesn’t actually get me what I want.
And what do I want, with this person? Not much, I realize. What I want is actually something that I want with myself. I want to stop participating in this type of cyclic dysfunctional communication — not just with this individual, but with anyone.
Letting the little dick-head in my head rule the day, letting it have its moment of venomous venting, wouldn’t accomplish this. I would just have let the steam out of my kettle, and put myself back on the burner, I think.
I believe that the emotion of “mad” wants me to do something to change what brought up the mad in the first place. So, if I’m pissed off that dinner is late, throwing a plate against the wall might release some of the energy that wants a change, but it won’t actually do anything to change tardy dining, now or in the future. (And, really, if I’m pissed off enough to throw a plate, chances are that this particular late dinner isn’t really the issue, anyway.)
While my momentary “mad” might actually be a genuine response to this email exchange, my pissed off dick-head response is probably not about this email exchange. It’s probably about the fact that I keep choosing to engage in something that I don’t enjoy, and I haven’t figured out why. So my anger doesn’t actually belong with that other person — it belongs with me. Sending them a sarcastic, or pissy, or even a measured, authentic, and responsible response will probably do little, if anything, to help me change what I need to change in myself. So if I’m going to unleash the dick-head, maybe I need to do that towards myself . . . . or maybe I already have . . . . maybe that’s what that buzzing in my head is all about.
So, that’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about this weekend. I almost didn’t post this, but then I questioned myself about why I wouldn’t post it. So I’m hitting “publish” now.
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