Tuesday, 20 September 2016

22 January 1881 - 'Good and Bad Tempers' by James Mason

Please suppress your own anger, and assume responsibility for the good tempers of everyone around you.

Girls, were I monarch of the globe, it would be laid at your feet, but fortune having granted me little more than a shadowy possession in the regions of air, you must take the will  for the deed, and accept of the best I have to offer in these occasional papers of good counsel. Of course, it is understood that you are acting up to them, so that all my pains and good intentions may not be thrown away. It was not of you that somebody wrote -

"Never will I give advice
Till you please to ask me thrice;
Which if you in scorn reject
'Twill be just as I expect."

This time we are to speak about "getting into a rage"; so, all of you, lend me your ears.

There is a woman told about in a popular legend who once stamped her foot on the ground in a passion, and she drove it so far in that it could not be drawn out again, so there she remained  for the rest of her days, a monument to the inconveniences of a bad temper. It is to be regretted that such monuments are not met with in real life, for of all deplorable things against which mankind and womankind should be warned, a fiery disposition is one of the most deplorable.

Some people are born of gentler nature, and so, without much trouble on their part, possess good tempers, but others are by nature so touchy that one can hardly say a word to them without danger of an explosion. I do not always blame them. The other day I met a man in a towering rage; "Excuse me," said he, "I inherit this disposition from my mother."

Let us not, I say, be too hard on such people. That one has fallen heir to an irritable constitution is not a fault; what we should object to and cry out against is when one gives way to it.

It is a great misery, as many of us know, to live with the ill-tempered; indeed may we all be preserved from even occasional contact with them. On the other hand how is it possible to avoid longing  for the society of her whom we are sure always to find with a smile on her face and pleasant words on her tongue?

If a peevish temper makes life disagreeable for other people, do you think the owner of it any better off/ Ask her. Old as the world is, it may be safely said that no one ever yet felt happy after a display of the fireworks of ill-humour. Let us keep, then, from growing angry if only because passion is on the high road to repentance, and repentance, it need hardly be added, is far from a comfortable state of mind.

What a bad example, too, the cross-grained set to their neighbours. This is sometimes not sufficiently thought of by those who in other respects are everything that is estimable, and all who are trying to do good in the world should be ever on their guard lest by all-timed anger they destroy their influence and make others doubt the sincerity of what is really at bottom a genuine Christian character. If a display of temper is specially objectionable in any, and specially dangerous, considering its influence on others, it is in those who profess themselves followers of Him Who is a Pattern of meekness.

Every exhibition of irritability sinks us in the estimation of our friends, and as the tendency to anger grows by being indulged in, ill-tempered people are in a fair way for having no friends at all. They end in being either hated or scorned. No wonder. A girl in an habitual rage is little better than a wild beast.

Look on it as you like, we are decided losers by anger. I often think of the niece whose maiden aunt left her five hundred pounds a year in her will, but the young lady one day fired up at something and made a sarcastic remark - people you know, are always saying foolish things when in a passion - and the aunt that very evening sent  for the lawyer and cancelled the clause in her niece's favour. It is to be hoped that none of us will ever regulate our conduct by purely mercenary considerations; but if ever you are remembered in an old lady's will, put a bridle on your tongue. Money is nowhere compared with right, but it is sad to think of being in the wrong, and losing five hundred pounds a year at the same time.

Temper never gains anything except when opposed to very weak natures, over whom to be victorious is no triumph. It is gentleness that rules the world, and the meek shall in more senses than one inherit the earth. "Be thou humble and peaceable," says an old writer, "and Jesus will be with thee." Now, it would be impossible, with a spark of truth, to say that of the ill-tempered.

On odd thing about getting angry is that most often it is about trifles, if not about nothing at all. Everyone has heard of the husband and wife who had a serious quarrel as to whether what they heard scratch behind the wainscot was a rat or a mouse. And, if my memory does not deceive me, another husband and wife had a violent dispute for no other reason than that the one asserted that the tea was made from Thames water, whilst the other was equally confident the water came from the New River. Countless tempers are lost for no better reasons than these.

But how shall we cure a bad temper? It is difficult, my child, for our passions are hard to restrain; but just as you can be charming when you please, so, by an effort, you can be sweet and gentle though all the world should try to irritate you. Perhaps you think it very difficult, but there never yet was a good thing easily come by.

You may feel angry - constitutionally you may be irritable; many are so, as I have said already - but never give your anger expression. Shut your mouth and say nothing. There was once a famous man who had an exceedingly bad temper. It certainly ran in his family, for his brother was just the same; and it is told that when any cause of offence was given him, he grew very red in the face, and remained for awhile silent, and when at last he spoke his words were calm and gentle. He never opened his mouth till he got the better of his rage. This is a noble example, and I would that all the world were like that great man. Bottle up your wrath, then, and if necessity compels you to speak, be as sparing of your words as if they cost five guineas apiece.

But to keep from uttering our anger is not enough; we must harbour no angry thoughts. We cannot help, if quick-tempered, the mere feeling of anger arising in our minds, but we need not let it remain there unless we please. Let there be, then, no nursing of your wrath to keep it warm. Turn at once to something else, and give it the cold shoulder.

Try, above all things, to cultivate noble views both as to life in this world and our future in the next. Whoever is so occupied will have neither time nor taste for petty squabbles and passions about nothing.

It is a prudent rule to avoid all occasions of anger. We should shun, for example, the company of people who irritate us, and in whose presence, for some reason or another, we feel "as cross as two sticks." Live with happy people if you can, for by so doing you will acquire something of their spirit. If you cannot manage that, the next best thing is to try to make those about you happy. But, on second thoughts, I should have called this the better thing, for there is the greater blessing attached to it. May you then, girls, be so busy in trying to make sunshine for those about you that you will forget what it is to be cross, and that there are such things as bad tempers to be met with anywhere!

The gaining of mastery over one's temper improves the tone of one's character, not to say anything about good looks, for it is well known what a preserver of the features we have in a sweet disposition. It is something, girls, to know that we are conquerors - conquerors over ourselves. We feel that we have done what is difficult, for to rule one's spirit is difficult.

You remember what was said by the wisest of men, and is recorded in the inspired book: "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city."

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