Last week, we discussed how forcing ourselves to speak in a calm voice will help us control our anger and prevent angry outbursts. Although we might not be feeling calm inside, by simply forcing ourselves to speak in a low tone of voice, our anger will be kept at bay and eventually diminish.
Being aware of our tone of voice is an important first step, but in order to truly eradicate the anger from our hearts, we will need to dig a little deeper. How can we better come to terms with – and feel at peace with – the people who have angered us?
One key technique is to try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective.
Let’s go back to our story from a few weeks ago, about Ilana who forgot to buy the coffee. Of course it was very annoying that Ilana forgot to buy the coffee, and it’s totally normal and understandable to feel upset that there is no more coffee available.
But now that you don’t have the coffee anyway, you have 2 options: You can either (1) keep simmering in anger at Ilana, telling yourself over and over, “She’s so irresponsible! So insensitive! How dare she forget to buy more coffee! Doesn’t she know that I drink coffee every day and I NEED my coffee?! I can’t believe she forgot to buy it! She is so irresponsible!” If you keep thinking this way and keep feeding into your anger, you will stay angry for a long time. The next time you see Ilana, you will probably still feel vestiges of anger and you might not even be able to speak to her in a pleasant voice about other, totally unrelated matters.
But before you get locked into this cycle of angry thoughts, you can choose to redirect your thoughts in a different direction: Pause and ask yourself: Can I understand a little bit why Ilana may have forgotten to buy the coffee? How would I feel if I were in Ilana’s position?
Maybe Ilana had a lot on her mind that day, and she really meant to buy the coffee but just totally forgot. Maybe Ilana even set a reminder alarm on her phone, but she missed the alarm because her phone was on silent. Or maybe she didn’t do any of these things but she is aware of her tendency to forget things – and she feels horrible about it! – but she simply doesn’t know how to improve!
How might it feel to be a forgetful person? How would I feel if I forgot to do something and then someone got mad at me for it? Maybe Ilana feels really bad about her tendency to forget things but she just lacks the skills and self-awareness to improve.
If you try to think this way about Ilana and try to understand how she is feeling or how she may be struggling, it will awaken feelings of compassion within you and you might be able to let go of some of your anger.
We can probably all think of a time when someone was hurt by our actions and we wished they would have understood where we were coming from.
Maybe your boss yelled at you for coming late to work, and you wished your boss would have known how hard it was for you to even just get out the door with all the last-minute emergencies that cropped up that morning.
Maybe your spouse/parent/roommate got mad at you for not taking out the garbage, and you wished they would have known how very exhausted you were at the time.
Maybe your friend got mad at you for “bragging” about the 95 you just got on your test – but meanwhile you were just trying to share your joy and excitement with her, and didn’t realize how jealous and bitter it would make her feel.
By remembering the times when we wished other people would have understood our own perspective, we, too, can try to stretch our minds to try to understand why another person might have acted the way they did.
Beis Hillel’s Power of Perspective
The skill of being able to see things from another person’s perspective is actually so important that it impacts how we determine many different types of halachos.
The Gemara1 writes that there were two groups of people who debated about halachah: Beis Shammai and Beis Hilllel. Although the Gemara says that both groups were accurate in their thinking, we almost always follow Beis Hillel’s opinion. Why?
The Gemara explains that we follow Beis Hillel’s opinion because they had easygoing personalities, and they always made sure to learn Beis Shammai’s opinion in addition to reviewing their own opinions. In fact, the students of Beis Hillel even learned Beis Shammai’s opinions first, before reviewing their own opinions. By contrast, the students of Beis Shammai were known to be kapdanim – sharper and more stubborn people.
At first glance, this is very surprising: Why should Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel’s personalities have any impact on whose opinion we follow for halachah?
The Maharal explains2: When a Rabbi decides the halachah in any given scenario, he must take a lot of factors and perspectives into consideration. For example, if your parents want you to eat in their house for Pesach, but they don’t stick to the same level of chumros (halachic stringencies) that you would ideally like to keep, is it better for you to eat by your parents, or to eat elsewhere?
To decide this, a Rav must weigh all of the relevant values and Torah principles – such as how your parents will feel if you aren’t home for Pesach, the mitzvah of kibbud av v’aim, the value of shalom bayis, and the value of the chumros you’d like to keep.
Normally, when a person is calm, he is emotionally balanced and able to see all sides of an issue. But when a person is angry, he becomes unbalanced. His mind begins to think along one single track (such as “I can’t believe Ilana forgot the buy the coffee! She is so insensitive! So irresponsible!”… over and over.) The mind of an angry person becomes hyper-focused and riveted on their one angry thought. They are unable to see the balanced perspective that is necessary in order to make balanced halachic decisions.
For this reason, explains the Maharal, we follow the halachic opinions of Beis Hillel. The students of Beis Hillel were calmer, more humble, and were able to see multiple perspectives on each issue. So much so, that the students of Beis Hillel were even able to understand Beis Shammai’s opinions, even though they was different from their own opinions. They were able to see all sides of the issue.
Although most of us are not paskening halachos on a regular basis, the skill of being able to see and understand another person’s perspective can go a long way toward helping us stay calm, focused, balanced, and free of anger.
Sources:  Eiruvin 13b;  Netivos Olam: Netiv HaKaas, Chapter 1, also see Sifsei Chaim: Middos V’Avodas Hashem, Vol. I. pg. 231
Once a day, try to see a situation from another person’s perspective.
- I see an elderly person walking into shul with a cane. I wonder what it feels like to have to walk with a cane?
- I can’t believe Shira just hung up the phone on me so fast, without even saying goodbye! Hm, actually, it did sound like there were a lot of kids in the background. Maybe her kids were all screaming for her attention and something urgent happened so she had to hang up immediately. I can remember times when I, myself, had to get off the phone abruptly because something urgent came up that I had to take care of…
- I wonder what it feels like to be a security guard. Does he get bored at his job?
- Why can’t my students sit still for even one minute?! Why are they constantly jumping out of their chairs?! Hm, I wonder what it feels like to be in a class that you find boring. Even though I love teaching history, maybe my students don’t find the lesson interesting. I wonder what it’s like to feel stuck in a chair in a class that you find boring… I have felt that way myself sometimes myself when listening to a speaker…
- I can’t believe my sibling/spouse/friend said that obnoxious comment, and didn’t even apologize! Hm, maybe he/she feels terrible about it and just doesn’t know what to say, or feels too embarrassed to apologize. I have felt that way before myself, so I can relate.
- I’m on the phone, trying to place an order for a delivery from the grocery store, and the person is taking so long to take my order! Hm, I wonder what it feels like to be taking orders all day… Maybe it’s overwhelming and hard for him to use the computer system, and that’s why it’s taking so long. I can remember times when I had a hard time using the computer and it took me a long time to finish tasks.
- What does it feel like to be the new person at this event?
- I’m at the vort of a close friend of mine, and I tried to wish her mazel tov but she only spoke to me for 3 seconds and then turned away to speak to someone else! Hm, I wonder what it feels like to be at the center of attention at a simcha. She probably feels overwhelmed and pulled in many different directions. Maybe she really did want to speak to me but she just got yanked away by someone else.
- Someone just wished me “IY”H by you” at the wedding of my sister who is 5 years younger than me. Don’t they realize how painful it is to feel like everyone is looking at me as a nebach older single? Hm, maybe the lady didn’t mean to hurt me – she was just trying to express her caring, and didn’t realize how it would come across.
- There was once a man who cursed Dovid HaMelech and threw stones at him. What was his name? (See Shmuel II Chapter 16)
- How did Dovid HaMelech react to these curses?
- In Megillas Esther 7:10, what happened to make Achashveirosh’s anger subside?
- What lesson does Rashi learn about anger, from the fact that Hashem “left” Aharon and Miriam only AFTER rebuking them for speaking lashon hara about Moshe? (See Rashi on Bamidbar 12:9)
- The Gemara (Brachos 7a) says that Hashem only gets angry for a brief moment each day, and there was only one person who knew what time it happens. Who was that person? (See Rashi on Bamidbar 24:16)
- The Gemara (Brachos 7a) says that Hashem’s anger lasts only for a fraction of an hour. What is the exact fraction number?
- The Gemara (Shabbos 105b) writes that a person whose anger makes him do certain extreme activities is considered as if he is worshiping idols. Name 1 of the 3 activities described by the Gemara.
- According to the Gemara (Pesachim 66b), what will happen to a Chacham (wise person) or Navi (prophet) who gets angry?
Questions to Ponder
- Pirkei Avos says that when a person is angry, you should not try to appease him. Why not?
- The Gemara says that a person’s true nature is recognized in how he acts when he is angry, how he deals with money, and how he acts when he is drunk. Why do you think these 3 ways are the best way to see someone’s true nature?
- The Midrash says that the word “kinah” (jealousy or zealousness) is related to anger. What do you think is the common denominator between jealousy, zealousness, and anger?
- In the Rosh Hashanah davening, we say that Hashem is “kasheh lich’os v’noach lirtzos – difficult to anger, and easy to appease.” But the Gemara (Brachos 28b) writes that when Hashem becomes angry, His anger lasts forever. Is this a contradiction? If so, how can it be resolved?