Putting the Brakes on Anger

Today’s guest blog is by Benjamin Gladden, a busy father of three who lives and writes from his home in Framingham, MA.

Ever seen someone who could use some help or encouragement, but you weren’t sure what to do? As many sectors of our economy continue to struggle, supporting and encouraging one another has taken on new import. A simple smile at the register or gentle encouragement can mean a lot to someone struggling. But how do we know how–or even when–to help out?

I had a brief experience with a man a couple summers ago that taught me a lot about listening for ways to help others, even when I don’t want to help!

I had to get the car inspected, so I stopped at a gas station after dropping the kids at school. I paid the man and he took the car. He was brusque with me, but I didn’t think much of it.

About 20 minutes later, he pulled the car around to where I was sitting. He hopped out, handed me the keys and the inspection form, and started to walk away. I immediately noticed the big red “R” sticker on my windshield. I called to him as he walked away, and asked what the rejection sticker was for.

What followed would not be considered one of my finer moments, nor probably one of his finer moments. We discussed, rather loudly, why the car hadn’t passed inspection – a minor issue with the parking brake – and why he just handed me the keys and walked away. He couldn’t fix the problem, so I had to get it fixed and then come back.

I called our regular mechanic. He could fix the brake a little later in the day, so I headed home feeling very unsettled and with the leftover emotions of anger weighing me down.

I don’t like feeling angry. Who does? It’s rare for me to display my emotions, especially with someone I hardly know. But the feelings that result from heated encounters–sweaty palms, racing heart, shaking inside–can’t be too good for you. Some researchers say anger is as bad as smoking a cigarette. And a recent Harvard study on anger says it’s pretty common, especially among men. If their research is correct, then 1 in 10 men suffer from a more serious form of anger and it’s having a direct impact on their health.

My interaction with this man was enough to turn me to prayer, not just to calm my own thoughts but to see how I might have been of help to this man, who clearly didn’t seem too happy. Helping others has just the opposite effect of getting angry–it naturally neutralizes anger, overrides stress, and more.

During the months before, I’d spent a lot of time looking for work – and praying for God’s guidance and direction as to where to apply for work. I made the decision to treat every interaction throughout my day as a potential job lead, and as a way to reach out to others.

Although I didn’t want to, I tried to view my interaction with this rude man in this light.

As I turned my thoughts to God, and asked what to do, I suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that this man was worried about staying in business. Of course a lot of people were worried about staying in business, but he gave me no indication that this was the case when I talked with him. So, how did I know this?

You might call it intuition, but I feel like it was God telling me, “Hey, this guy is scared. Go take care of him!”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to take care of him, but I prayed for him anyway. I affirmed that God was actively caring for that man – for his business, for his family, for his customers. I also affirmed that God was caring for my family and me while I looked for work and that neither one of us could be the victim of our circumstances and communicate contrary to our highest sense of good.

After I got the brake fixed, I drove back to the inspection station. I felt calm and wasn’t at all worried. Even if the man was unpleasant with me, I wasn’t going to let it bother me.

Well, when I arrived at the gas station, he immediately greeted me with a big, “Hello, friend.” About five minutes later he was putting a passing sticker on my car.

As he handed me the keys, I apologized for speaking rudely to him earlier. He said something like, “No need to apologize. I had some business things weighing on my mind, but life is definitely looking up now.” To me, his response and new attitude were proof of God’s active care.

That one-day experience taught me a lot about listening for ways to help others and about not reacting. It really is through individual interactions that we help each other – that we show our genuine love for each other and stay on a healthy path. Praying and listening for how to help are vital to that effort.


  1. Dave says

    Well done Benjamin,

    I also recently had a situation where I felt quite mistreated. I sat down at my computer and fired off a letter, and then read it. I had some misgivings about it, so I put it aside for a day or two. Bottom line is that after reading it again, with a cooler head, I decided not to send it, as it most likely would not have had any beneficial effects. I am planning to (the next time I visit this establishment) have a chat with a couple people, and offer a few brief suggestions on how similar situations could be avoided in the future. Anger is almost always about how we feel we’ve been wronged.
    Responding on that basis will always lead to a negative solution… it’s just not worth it!

  2. says

    Thank you, Benjamin. What a great resolution to the situation! Anger can tempt all of us at times and stepping back and praying really gives a higher perspective. You surely proved that.

    When I’m angry I like to think of the person that I’m angry at as if they were my very best friend and close confidant. How would I communicate my anger to that person? Certainly not in an abusive and distancing way, but with love, patience, courage and clarity. We each have these qualities. We get them from God. And when we use them to speak to others they very often speak back to us from that same higher persepctive.

    I once heard a saying that goes like this: “Speak to the knave and the knave will answer; Speak to the king and the king will answer”. We can always find a way to speak to the higher qualities in a person and hope for a reply that is in kind.