Sunday, December 7, 2008

Anger Management 101: Remember your goal

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here!]

This is one of those thoughts that are patently obvious, but I’d like to put it in writing anyway, if only to remind myself when I read it again at some point in the future.

Brett Cyrgalis, writing in a post on his New York Ranger blog The Blue Seats, points out that sports fans who boo their own team, during play, are defeating themselves. Or, to use his words:

…to boo while the play is going on is a distraction. If you want your team to do better, don't discourage them while they're in the process of trying to win. That's what you should do to a visiting team. Like if the Devils were in town, and they weren't shooting the puck on the powerplay, it'd be a good idea to start screaming 'shoot the puck' at them so that they rush their passes and force shots and are disrupted from their planned routine…

As a general rule, when a player on your team touches the puck, it is a bad idea to boo him.

Cyrgalis wants us to remember our goal: We may be angry, but we ultimately want to win, so let’s find a way to win.

Of course, Cyrgalis’s logical advice is not applicable to many sports fans - because sports fans aren’t necessarily rooting for their team to win. Many sports fans are looking for catharsis, and they’ll take it any way they can get it, whether with a victory or a brawl or an outraged outburst at ref, coach or player.

For many fans, it’s not whether you win or lose - it’s how you feel after the game.

On the other hand, his advice makes a lot of sense for the rest of us, outside the arena, and particularly for a rabbi: If you act to serve your anger instead of your goals, you lose.

It’s easy for a rabbi to get frustrated and angry, for many reasons. Among them:

*Rabbis are, in our own minds, on the “right” side. We are trying to run a shul and community, to help people fulfill mitzvot, to counsel people, and so on; clearly, we are the good guys. So if someone knocks us, it’s easy for us to be filled with righteous anger.

*When you’re in the rabbinate, so much of your job is personal. You spend 15-20 hours each day worrying about people, working with people, helping people. The result can be a loss of perspective, and individuals’ insufficiencies - failure to come to minyan, coming late to a meeting, not working on a project - can come to look like a personal attack.

*We keep very tight schedules, which don’t offer a lot of time for reflection. This is, in my experience, one of the most destructive elements of the modern rabbinate; scheduling the day in fifteen minute increments means that we don’t take the needed time to reflect before reacting.

One way to deal with this is to keep the goal in mind, always. If you want her to work on the project, if you want him to come to minyan, if you want meetings to run well, getting angry won’t help the situation.

Yes, you’re on the right side. Yes, it’s often personal. Yes, you need to move on to the next activity. But breathe, think, breathe, think, breathe, then act. It works.


  1. heh. replace "mother" with rabbi and I can totally identify...

  2. I can identify with a lot of your frustration... working long hours, with and for people (many of whom are in emotionally trying situations and not at their best), year after year, having to keep up your motivation, and not allowing yourself time for reflection... these things all characterize my job as well.

    The answer? You don't find the time for reflection, so much MAKE the time. You clear out your schedule a bit, and take care of yourself. Like the rest of your basic human needs - eating, sleeping etc, -- no one else can rest and reflect for you.

  3. Tzipporah-
    I couldn't handle "mother" - "rabbi" is already plenty.

    Too true.