In my religion is a strong tenet, that “the strong man is the one who holds his temper”. This is attributed to the Prophet Muhammad himself.
When I was in my early twenties (and before I had converted to Islam), I had a partner who was eleven years older than me. He used to say (in explanation of why we had a rocky relationship) ‘Your blood boils from youth, it will be calmer when you’re older‘. We finished not long after. I’m now the age he was then. Sometimes I ask myself if his prediction has indeed come true.
Converting to Islam caused me to reassess my own ego. I began to see that while I as an individual, as a daughter, sister, friend, office colleague and later as a wife and mother have an importance, it would be an over-inflated ego and pride that would cause me to take offence to the point of anger at a throwaway comment, a condescending tone, or a patronizing look. People decide to get angry. Anger is a decision made in a billionth of a second. It’s a reaction that has been refined and improved over our lifetimes so that we no longer need to think about it, hence why it feels instinctual when someone is pressing your buttons.
I spent a lot of my youth being angry. I ruined opportunities, relationships and wasted a lot of time that could have been spent happily if only I had chosen to NOT be angry. (I’ll admit that sometimes I got angry because I judged the other person’s feelings for me by how they reacted when I got angry. It made me feel good to see that they didn’t want to lose me. I still feel a lot of shame over that.) I’m not talking about hiding my anger – that is different – but to actually choose not to be offended, not to raise my voice, not to verbally attack others, not to react. You think I’m an idiot? Well that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. Good luck to you.
Some people might call me cowardly. They might say I’ve let myself become a doormat. They might be angry at me for refusing to get into a confrontation.
The truth is that I can still seethe. And I am quite capable of letting the animal out of the cage if I feel hurt badly enough. But anger is such a trivial waste of energy and time. Even when I feel that familiar hot burn rising in my stomach I remind myself that I only feel this way because I’m letting it happen and I can resolve this without the anger. So someone patronized me? So what?? In my mind I play through the scenario that would ensue if I got angry – I might say something angry back, we would inflame each other with smart ass remarks, before regretting it all and apologizing. It would hardly change their opinion of me or my action, most likely it would validate it. So why bother? I will only regret the words I spoke and can not take back. I don’t need the burden of that.
Paradoxically, when you start to do this, your self esteem starts to solidify and the comments, perceived disrespect or triggers that previously nudged your self esteem to react in such a negative way, now no longer impact this solid core of yourself. Very little that others do can upset you. You get strong. You get happy as you realize that the influence of others over your emotional stability is totally diminished. Having a stronger but more humble self esteem has enabled me to talk issues out with people before they become sensitivities.Being able to admit I did something wrong goes hand in hand here.
The anger I feel nowadays is related to social justice. I try not to waste time on anger in my personal relationship (I’m not always successful). Hypocrisy is unavoidable in life; at times we all espouse one thing and then do another. I get angry when people die in wars, famine, disease etc as a result of social hypocrisy and a lack of social justice. And this is a healthy anger. I control where it starts and ends. I don’t let the weight of my own pride-based anger burden me anymore. I feel a whole lot better for it.
So am I calmer now I’m older? Yes, I suppose he was right. But he couldn’t have known the process of growth and transformation I went through to get here.