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Angry or Afraid? When people act out, do we see someone to fear or someone to serve?

I still need help practicing consistently: quickly changing my response from one of “equal and opposite” reaction to one of service, grace and compassion

When I think back to all the times I have lashed out in my life, one emotion lies at the bottom of the well that triggered the event-fear.  I can recall getting angry even when the situation called for very different emotions.  For instance, when my kids were little and they would hurt themselves doing something carelessly, I would get mad well before I ever got empathetic or cleared my head enough to care for them properly.  Why is that?  I think it is because I was afraid for them and how badly they might be hurt and I was mad at myself for not being able to prevent the situation.  In both cases, fear of things not in my control drove the emotion.  At the risk of generalizing, I would say that we men tend to pull on this as our “goto” emotion for a great many things.

Interestingly, when I reflect on how I judge other people when they lash out, I am not so quick to recognize fear or insecurity as the origination of the behavior.  Oddly, when other people act out in anger or frustration, it too easily occurs to me that they have some malevolent motive or intent. To add insult to injury, I have been known to get tense and “fight fire with fire” in these situations, lashing out in a verbal fencing match.  In my more benevolent moments, I might patronizingly see them as needing help to approach a situation differently leading me to go into (what my kids call) “Dr. Phil” mode.  I will often try to calm or soothe the person or situation by addressing the surface level reaction vs the underlying need or emotion. This has been known to illicit nothing more productive or ground breaking than a somewhat sarcastic spoken or unspoken : “thanks Dr. Phil.” My question this week sounds something like : Is that what people need in these moments?


In my case, I rely on a greater Source of patience and strength to allow me to look upon that person with eyes to serve them vs. fear or react to them.  In my case. I have Jesus to serve as my example. I know this is not the case for everyone, but the lessons are probably pretty relevant regardless of where you land on the spiritual spectrum.

Here is the thing I have learned, but still need help practicing consistently: quickly changing my response from one of “equal and opposite” reaction to one of service, grace and compassion.  I need help switching my glasses around so I see a person in these tense, confrontational or angry moments as someone to serve vs. someone to feel sorry for or serve up a tongue lashing to.

I like what Andy Stanley said about this in various writings and sermons.  I will attempt to paraphrase him here.  He is fond of challenging us to serve people. He asks that we serve those we love and are close to us as well as those we disagree with.  In fact, he has said we are called to serve people we might not even like or enjoy the company of! He challenges us as Jesus Followers to “confuse everybody with our generosity and with our benevolence.” He asks us to be “so full of grace that Christians around us wonder where we stand on certain issues.”  I find that to be incredibly compelling and convicting.

Whether you consider yourself a Jesus Follower or not, I want to challenge you to follow this same behavior the next time someone appears to be angry or looking for a fight.  Turn the tables and treat the person with kindness and find creative ways to serve them instead of clashing.  I am not guaranteeing you that they will instantly change their approach or demeanor or all of a sudden start agreeing with you.  I am not even guaranteeing that they will be the one to change.  I will guarantee you that you will end up changed and you may even discover some things about yourself and God in the process.


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By J Johnson

I am seeking to discover, find and share salt and light into the world. After growing up in financial poverty, but with a wealth of loving people lifting me up all along the way, I struggled for a good while to "do it all on my own." Until I finally found something indescribable in a mere "about me" section of a blog. Now I have the peace that discovery provides as well as the overwhelming urge to share everything I can with as many as I can. I am now trying to use those life experiences, my formal and informal education, and my over 25 years of human resources and leadership experience to have a broader conversation with the world about that something, that Light, and about Love and Leadership...with a dose of Laughter along the way. 4 Ls to Live by and to Soar by: Four for Soaring.

One reply on “Angry or Afraid? When people act out, do we see someone to fear or someone to serve?”

Most of the time, the rush of anger is easily expressed in the form of angry words. I think this is so because people aren’t good at processing all their emotions and everything they are feeling before they act. The instinct to act right away is there, and it takes a lot of practice to take a few more minutes to think about what one is feeling before saying anything. I also think it matters how a person’s cognitive skills work. Some people act out with the emotion that they feel most strongly at first. For others, it could be different, like they feel fearful and concerned but instead of expressing that, their fear comes out as anger and resentment.

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