Working in a family business has its plusses and minuses.  For me, the minuses occurred when my buddies were out playing baseball during summer vacation and I was putting in a 60-hour workweek with my father.  But on the plus side, working in a family grocery store gave me an education about customer service that I never would have received in college.

The lessons learned at Sentry Foods served me well when I became the CEO of a prominent insurance brokerage in Denver.  So whenever I experience a lackadaisical or an indifferent attitude on the part of wait-staff, bank tellers or checkout clerks, it truly bothers me—and often quite a bit more than is justified.

One such instance occurred the other day while having lunch at a local Edwards eatery.  In this case, our waitress was slow, inattentive, and for the most part disinterested in her work.  So I did something any self-respecting eight-year-old would do, I got angry and allowed this inept waitress with her awful attitude to spoil my meal.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there.  After paying the bill and exiting the restaurant I continued grousing until it occurred to me that if I didn’t change my attitude, her attitude would dictate my emotions for the rest of the afternoon.  But just how does one go about making one’s self, “un-angry?”

Then a wonderful book I read many years ago by Dr. David Richio came to mind and I realized anger wasn’t the emotion I was feeling, because holding on to anger is impossible. In fact, psychologists tell us anger is the shortest feeling and cannot be held onto.

By allowing the waitress’s actions to affect me as I did, I allowed “drama” to take hold of my emotions.  I had forgotten that once my anger was fully expressed (note the word fully,) relief and letting go was sure to follow.  I wasn’t holding onto anger, rather I was holding onto a “story line” that kept “the drama” of the incident ignited.

Some will tell us that anger is a waste of time—I disagree.  Anger is a legitimate human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time.  More importantly, real anger must be expressed in order to maintain psychological health.  And the notion that anger must have an objective justification (a waitress’s indifferent attitude in this case) is irrelevant; we express anger because it is real for us.

But there are differences between anger and drama, and it’s probably a good thing to understand them.  Most importantly, real anger is brief and then let go of with a sense of closure while drama is held on to and endures as resentment.

Additionally, genuine anger does not lead to danger, distance or violence—drama does that.  And in this context, drama means ego-centered, manipulative theatrics with an explanatory storyline attached.  In fact most of the time, what we think of as anger, is in reality a set of storylines and drama.

Expressing true anger informs others, while drama often frightens others.  Real anger is meant to communicate with another person whereas drama is meant to silence the other person.

Legitimate anger needs no response from others, but drama insists that others see how justified one’s “anger” is.  And lastly, real anger can coexist with other feelings; drama on the other hand occludes other feelings.

So how does one make one’s self ‘un-angry?’  One doesn’t—because real anger is brief, cleansing and absent resentment.  The best we can do when we momentarily lose our equanimity is to stop and think about what’s really going on inside of us and then ask our selves if we’re really angry or just replaying a set of storylines and enjoying the drama?

Quote of the Day: “Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools”—Albert Einstein