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Flying off the handle


WHAT FLIES OFF the handle is a loose ax head getting detached from its place, sailing dangerously into the air and hitting an unintended target. The phrase denotes a burst of uncontrolled temper.

A recent incident (have you forgotten already?) involving loss of control led to the shooting down of an unarmed pair of mother and son for being… well, irritating. (I just lost it, Sir.) The perpetrator’s chief calmly invoked the need for seminars on anger management for the police force. Which is about as sound a reaction as prescribing a cold shower to control a serial rapist.

Anger management may indeed be prescribed for less violent tantrums, even if not necessarily involving dead bodies.

You don’t like having lunch with a person with a short fuse. He asks for multigrain bread for his tuna salad sandwich. And the waiter brings him whole wheat bread. (Sir, we don’t have multigrain today.) The server is berated in a loud voice as you try to pacify your now raging companion with the offer to eat his wheat bread since you are on the South Beach Diet. He can order something else, or just scrape off the tuna from the sandwich — ha, ha, ha.

The harder you try to pacify your out-of-control lunch mate, the louder his voice gets as he turns on you — stay out of this you Son of a South Beach, and just chew on your carrot stick.

Hotheads have a low tolerance for frustration. This can manifest itself in aggressive behavior like sometimes yes, pulling a loaded gun in your face. The trigger event (pun intended) need not be caused by human aggression, like being cut and overtaken by a motorcycle in road rage.

Such aggressive behavior is unacceptable in the workplace even for the boss. Corporate legends are replete with tales of monumental tempers. It is not unusual for those who have worked too long with a known subordinate-beater to consider it a badge of honor to have been singled out for a blowup. This bizarre distinction is an occasion for bragging — he only hurts the ones he loves.

A display of condescension, sarcasm, and arrogance in a leader is always disconcerting. It is visited on critics and those who ask for reactions to such criticism. Can invectives and ax-heads flying in all directions be far behind?

Anger management is a psychological discipline to address short fuses. The patient is asked to take a deep breath, count to 50, and think happy thoughts, as when one used to collect stamps.

Psychologists allow that some dissatisfaction over unacceptable situations can be healthy. Suppressing anger at all times can be stressful. Good mental health lies in aiming for reasonable assertiveness. Logic can defeat anger since it tries to isolate a problem and look for possible solutions.

Criticism of one’s work, for instance, is not necessarily an attack on your personality, even if it seems that way especially if it’s the same critic doing it twice a day.

One egregious trait of overseas Filipinos on short home visits is their constant whining. Their threshold of dissatisfaction has been lowered by their exposure to First World efficiency. When everything works back home, any inconvenience experienced in their visit falls in the category of a minor disaster. (The quarantine hotel was dirty.) Such foreigners are candidates for anger management sessions, focusing on home visits.

The stress of hosting such characters, even for just a week, can strain the bonds of hospitality and reduce the host into an apology machine calming down his guests. (Just ignore the beggar knocking on your car window selling face towels, please.)

This cultural trait of passive acceptance of even the most outrageous situation, like the need for a security guard for every establishment, bewilders the foreigner. Why are we so accepting of even unacceptable situations?

Having a high tolerance for frustration is a defense mechanism for Third World inhabitants. It is sometimes referred to as “resilience.” Getting angry each time things don’t work can be too frenetic. Still, the danger of extreme agreeableness means the acceptance of mediocrity.

Now and then, even highly tolerant people need to be jolted out of their complacency and get angry. Sometimes holy anger is called for. After all, only unreasonable people can become true change agents.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda

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