"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
June 24, 2014
Managing Anger through Laughter
by Imo Eshiet

Buddha had it going when he said, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

I saw the effects of anger up close during the awful a civil war in my country. The nerve-jangling tensions of war and the festering hate that led to the bloody conflict meant that the tempers of many were constantly on edge. Not a few were driven stark crazy by the easily combustible times.

My mother, who had asthma for as long as I knew her, had a fuse that was not only short but effortlessly lit. It did not help her mood that our environment was frequently carpeted for half the year by a fine powdery dust blasting in from the Sahara Desert. The other half of the year was wet from incessant sodden rains. All this compounded her health challenges and left her outraged most of the times.

When these pressures brought on her asthma attacks, she was mad at life, her children and almost everyone around her. Raising eight rambunctious kids, an unending stream of hangers-on and extended family members in an emergency situation did nothing to calm my stormy mother.

I know she was not naturally crazy.

In fact, she had a happy childhood being born the last of her parents’ three kids. Grandfather Jacob was by the standards of the village, a comfortable man. He had extensive farmlands, a flourishing trade in palm produce, and a sprawling compound teeming with kinsmen and women.

However, when he died and his first two children and wife followed in quick succession, Mother, who was barely a teenager, concluded life was a conspiracy. Finding herself alone in the world left her with seething grief and anger. The privations of war worsened her sense of loss and fiery disposition.

Whenever she was in this disagreeable state, words shot from her mouth like a machine gun in auto mode. Even as a child, I learned a lot watching Father patiently bear the brunt of her anger. Father, who was often high on mother-wit, was charming and ready to laugh at what others found so maddening.

There was strength in his tenderness and ability to make people relax in the midst of so much ugliness, so much brutality and coarseness. The violence of sarcasm displeased him. It was from him I learned the Rwandan proverb: “If your mouth turns into a knife, it will cut off your lips.”

While many men often engaged their wives in a shouting contest that tore up their families, my father always found a way of resolving tension with humor. His attitude was an inspiration. Sometimes things got nasty, though.

I remember on occasions our parents locked themselves up and sorted out issues, sometimes physically — especially when Mother’s explosive anger made her unbearably grating.

One thing I remember well though: father rarely kept malice and grudges.

In my culture men, who felt slighted by their wives often protested with hunger strikes until the cause of the quarrel was settled by elders. Since the odds were traditionally stocked against women, wives were usually found guilty and made to pay fines with goats, several tubers of yams, roasters, and strong drinks.

Instead of carrying a long drawn face and refusing to eat what Mother cooked, father would shrug off conflicts with laughter and jokes as if agreeing with Emerson that, “Every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”

One day I wondered aloud how Father managed to take all that Mother threw at him without losing his cool. It was Mother herself who explained things to me. Her late brother, Monday Jacob, was Father’s childhood friend. So Father knew the trauma that disposed her to being easily upset and so worked hard to accommodate Mother’s weakness.

Father himself was just as unfortunate. He had no idea what his mother looked like. She died giving birth to him and a twin brother who also passed at birth. Yet he never threw his misfortune at others. In his large heart there was no room for animosity.

He laughed because he could pardon the injuries of life. His lived the Swedish proverb that, “Those who wish to sing always find a song.” It was a gift I learned to appreciate as I grew older.

When I was introduced to Readers Digest, one of my favorite columns was “Laughter — the Best Medicine.” As I added other magazines and newspapers to my reading, I turned to cartoons, caricatures and just anything that teased me to laugh.

Amusement at life’s surprises decided my love for literature at college. Accordingly, I took to drama and theater. Although I enjoy all the other charms of literature, yet I fancy the catharsis of laughter most. One story that father told with lively imagination during Mother’s fits of anger helps me stay calm when a family member wants to pick a fight.

Long before I learned of him at school, I was already familiar with a Greek guy named Socrates. It wasn’t so much of his philosophy I knew then as his remarkable ability to forebear his wife’s nasty temper.

I do not know how true the story is, but each time Father told it, his eyes sparkled with humor and he laughed so merrily we all joined in. Socrates’ wife, Father said, was the nemesis of the renowned philosopher.

According to the story, Socrates was often so buried in thought he seldom did anything else. He would sit for hours in his study contemplating, his face furrowed, and his chin resting on his palms. His wife, an exasperating shrew, scorned this as laziness. She screamed and shouted at the husband to upset him. She nagged him to go join politicians in the city states and grab some wealth so they could live comfortably.

She soon found that it was easier to get a reluctant horse to drink water at the well than to get her obstinate husband out of his study. One day while raging like a dark storm cloud, she decided on how to deal with her husband’s lazy bones.

As the husband sat in his study, she grabbed a bucket of water and threw it at him. In her fury she had hoped to provoke a fight that would make Socrates mad enough to leave the house. She was stunned when her husband did the unexpected.

Rather than start a fight or storm out of the house, the drenched man laughed heartily, reached for a towel and dried himself. Settling back to his work, he thanked the wife for the unsolicited bath. Calmly, he explained she had just helped him prove right his assumption that after thunder and lightning comes rain.

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About Imo Eshiet

Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.

Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North Carolina Stake.

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