175. Anger and inordinate desire are the worst counselors.
Publius Syrus has an important thought for us this morning, and we should heed his advice — do not take counsel from anger or extreme desire. In other words, do not act out or give in to your impulses when angry or desirous of something.
Stimulus and Response
There is a concept that I’ve originally seen from Victor Frankl, regarding stimulus and response, that I think it is an excellent fit here. It is that, “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
When presented with a stimulus from which we could allow ourselves to get angry, we can instead become aware of the space before we respond and decide to choose a different response. Or, if we have already gotten angry, we can then choose not to act out that anger, as again we stay mindful of our ability to choose our response to a stimulus, in this case the anger that we are feeling.
You may have noticed a bit of wordsmithing above that could come across awkward and a bit affected. The point is to avoid not taking onus for our thoughts and emotions. So if we think about someone, “God, that person makes me angry,” we have sacrificed our power over ourselves and given it to them. As if another person has power over our thoughts and emotions…
If instead we reframe the situation as, “I am allowing that person to influence me to anger,” or, “I am allowing myself to become angry in response to that person,” we regain the power over ourselves. Specifically our power to choose our response. And in this power and response “lies our growth and freedom,” as Frankl tells us.
Another case would be lusting after something — a woman, a material possession, a position of status. Perhaps we see someone that has something which we want, and we become jealous of them. Or perhaps we see someone attaining things and receiving praise of which we don’t think they’re deserving.
Listening to our (bad) inner voice, the devil on our shoulder, we may undertake a campaign of sabotage, look to do them harm, or tear them back down to our level. But what a foolish move that would be — for that would be “taking counsel” from one of the “worst counselors.”
Instead, be mindful of that space the universe allows us, between stimulus and response, and make the decision to act in a more positive manner. Maybe to build ourselves up. To look inward to see what it is that we’re doing less than optimally. Or, to realize that what we are lusting after isn’t so desirable in the first place.
So a simple reminder — do not take counsel and act on destructive impulses that arise from feelings of anger and desire. Instead, be mindful of our power to choose our thoughts and behavior in response to stimulus, and regain the power of self-awareness and self-mastery which has been uniquely granted to humans. Our lives will be all the more rewarding and fulfilling.
Until next time,
Regaining power over your own thoughts, behaviors, and actions is the first step towards improving your life. And a great place to start is reading a 2,000-year-old book of sayings, because anything worth talking about 2,000 years later is sure to be of high quality.