The Judaic month of Tamuz began last Thursday. The 17th of Tamuz commemorates several notable Jewish tragedies, most which eventually led to the death of immense numbers of Jews.
The month of Tamuz also commemorates the yahrtzeit (death anniversary) of both of my parents. My mother’s on 18 Tammuz and my father’s on 29 Tammuz. When my mom died a few years ago, my wife said, “Gee. Your parents really must have hated the summer!” Actually, my father liked the summer, I think, as that was when he made much of his business selling antiques and jewelry at various antique fairs in New York City, but mainly in the Catskill Mountains area of New York State.
But, it does get quite hot in the summer, especially when you’re standing on hot pavement most of the day. And heat often makes people internally heated, or angry. My parents, unfortunately, were frequently angry at each other. One thing I wondered about is why two deaf people yell at each other. In hindsight, my parents probably didn’t realize how loud they can be. But, still, often, I wonder why one of my parents couldn’t have either ignored the problem or dealt with it in a quieter manner.
I, too, was angry at various family members for different reasons for many years. I was angry at them, sometimes, for demanding more from me than I wanted or was able to handle. When I was in my twenties and living on my own in a rented basement room, my grandparents would frequently demand some of my time to visit, do errands for them, and do other items that I often did not have the time to do. My father always wanted me to help him at a fair on Sundays, instead of doing something with my friends. My aunt would sometimes call me and vent her anger about not spending time with my mother. Suffice to say, that I was really angry at many people.
One day in my late twenties, while I was learning the weekly Torah portion, I viewed the story of how Joseph forgave his brothers. Many of you probably know the story well. Joseph had plenty to be really angry at them. But, on the second visit to Egypt, when Joseph revealed his identity, he says, “While you thought bad, God thought good.” It sounds like a nice amazing demonstration of Joseph’s faith. But, what I found most amazing is that Joseph was able to forgive his brothers before they apologized to him.
Now, I admit that over the past 20 years or so, I think I have developed a level of faith that a few of my friends and colleagues can’t understand. Some think I’m crazy. Well, I guess there’s some truth in that, but, I’m crazy for different reasons. Faith is not logical. So, perhaps, people think that you can forgive people only if they first apologize to you. They also feel that if you have a legitimate reason to be angry, that’s fine. Go ahead and vent, if you need to. It makes you feel better.
I won’t debate those ideas, here, as that would be a topic for several blogs. I’m also not attempting to convince you to have any level of faith at all, here. But, I will try to convince you to forgive people without expecting an apology, as I did.
I realized that I was angry at so many people for so long. All that anger was stunting my progress and it was actually adding fuel to their position. It seemed that they were enjoying my anger, because they kept doing things to make me angry. As for expecting an apology, it became more obvious that I was dealing with people who didn’t even think that they did anything wrong. All these factors combined made me realize that I was wasting an enormous amount of time and energy harboring anger. So, I just forgave them! Since then, I feel happier and, most of all, liberated.
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t be annoyed or upset with people or situations that harm you. You can certainly analyze the situation and by all means, avoid the situation or harmful people in the future. That’s what I have done in many situations. But I feel that anger is an absolute waste of time. At its least, it prevents you from making progress – whether that progress is just moving on to other important things or progress in solving the problem, if, in fact, it can be solved. If you can’t solve the problem at all, then, certainly being angry accomplishes nothing. In its worse situation, anger makes you forget what you’re doing or saying and places you completely out of control. You can end up saying the wrong thing to the person that harmed you. Then, instead of negotiating a solution, you have made the other person angrier at you. At the end, the cycle may repeat, or neither of you will resolve the problem. In brief, anger is never worthwhile under any circumstances.
Many of you may think that what I’ve said is “radical” and not practical. I assure you that what I have stated has been said by Moses Maimonides, a great Jewish philosopher, hundreds of years ago. But, I do not state my opinion simply because I’m following his wise advise. I arrived at my conclusion because I have tried it a few times, and I have seen it work. I admit that there are times when I still lose it and I get angry. I am far from faultless. But, I am no longer the constant angry person that I was as a teenager or young adult. Believe me, there are loads of things that occur within my family and even more things going on each day before, during, and after work that could make me furious, if I let it.
I will probably have to continue some of these thoughts in another blog, because this is a big issue that’s not easy for most people to do. But, in closing, I’d like to remind you of something that I mentioned in my Introduction blog. I mentioned that everybody has a bag of tricks containing pieces of extra effort that allows them to overcome challenges. So, I’m going to ask you to find that bag and pull out that bit of effort to overcome your anger. Pick someone or some situation that has angered you for a long time. Think it through. Evaluate how much time you’ve spent being angry at the person or thing. Have you done anything at all to negotiate a solution? If not, try doing that today. If you can’t solve it, forgive the person without expecting an apology. You’ll find that your life will be so much better. After you do, you’ll have another tool to put in that bag of efforts. The next time you get angry, you’ll be able to find that skill without having to first develop it anew.
All I ask is that you try what I’ve said. I’d love to hear your comments on how well it worked for you. Even if it didn’t work, comment about it, as well.