I love General Conference not just for talks which focus on eternal doctrines, but also for the more modest talks which speak about our character and how we should act and treat one another. In the Saturday Afternoon Session of the April 1971 conference, Elder ElRay L. Christiansen, spoke of anger “a matter that concerns each and every one of us.” This talk really hit home for me, because I come from a family of hotheads and anger is an emotion that I have always struggled with. His words also have implications for our society and our civic culture.
Elder Christiansen described about the link between controlling one’s temper and development of a christlike personality. He noted that we are constantly surrounded by things that could irritate us, but that “How we react to these irritations is a reflection of our personalities and temperaments.” He memorably summarized this point as such: “The size of a man may be measured by the size of the things that make him angry.” This is profound both locally and globally. In the development of our personality, the tendency to anger is corrosive and leads to the loss of “the respect and love of others.” More broadly, we live in a culture where anger fury are seen as things to celebrate. So much of politics is based on blind rage rather than controlled and disciplined discourse. Calm and reasoned conversation and thought is a sign of a well developed civic culture. We are too quick to condemn others, too quick to blow up rather than to empathize. Anger appears to me to be one of the key vices of modern day society.
He next spoke of the harmful impact of anger:
“Not only does intemperate anger affect us physically and mentally, in a negative way, but at the same time it also destroys wisdom and sound judgment. When we become upset,reason is suppressed, and anger rushes in. To make decisions while infuriated is as unwise and foolish as it is for a captain to put out to sea in a raging storm. Only injury and wreckage result from wrathful moments. When anger rules, tempered judgment flees.”
Anger is deeply destructive “sin of thought” which leads one to do and say things that one deeply regrets. I have seen from experience that this is true. In moments when I am angry, I make the worst possible decisions. I lash out at people I care about or say things that I know I will regret. I also feel the physical and emotional harm that anger brings. And this is true more broadly as well, anger in civic life leads to reputations destroyed, vile calumny and defamation, or even worse. Behind many of the mass shootings that we have seen recently, lies the evil of anger. Anger ultimately only can lead to injury and wreckage.
Elder Christensen poignantly described the impact of anger on the family. He notes that children are highly sensitive to anger and ultimately never forget what they feel, even if they forget the exact words that were said. And such an environment cannot produce children that are a “refined and noble” His words make me want to do far better at controlling my emotions. It is tragic that the ones we most often get angry at are the ones we care most about. Anger can lead to bitterness, destroyed homes, and divorce.
My favorite aspect of this talk is that Elder Christensen described the root of anger in a way that I had never heard before. He described a person with an uncontrolled temper as “an undisciplined child” who “disregards the feelings of those about him.” Ultimately then, anger is rooted in a sense of pride and self-centeredness. In this way, Elder Christensen’s words remind me of President Uchtdorf’s powerful sermon on pride where he noted that “every other sin is, in essence, a manifestation of pride.” When we anger, we “seek to hurt, diminish, and tear down others.” We think about our own self-gratification rather than the hurt that we inflict on others. In those moments of rage, we are truly only thinking about Seeing anger as an expression of pride helps me to turn outward and to try to think about the feelings of others rather than to focus on my own emotions.
Elder Christensen also spoke of ways to overcome anger. First of all, he describes a shift in perspective from seeing frustrations as irritants, to seeing them as opportunities. He notes that “[f]rustrations often offer us the means the progression, for by overcoming them harmoniously, we grow and become more Christlike.” I find this shift in perspective to be instrumental in helping to combat anger. When I realize that overcoming my frustration will help build me up, I am far more prone to forebare and to be kind.
Next, Elder Christensen spoke about emulating the example of the savior. He noted that even when Christ had great cause for anger, “[h]e did not retaliate in anger.” Instead, he displayed a divine conduct and a beyond human compassion for even those who persecuted him. Thinking about and following Christ’s example in moments of trial is a powerful remedy to the tendency towards anger.
Finally, Elder Christensen acknowledged that we need the Lord’s help in overcoming anger, when in his benedictory remarks he “pray[ed] for the help of the Lord in bringing this about.” Because charity is a gift from God, I have seen that one of the most powerful ways to combat anger is to pray for divine help and strength. Christ, who had great cause for anger and yet overcame, fully understand our tendencies towards anger and annoyance, and he therefore knows how to help us overcome. He will help us if we seek our his guidance and support.
I am grateful for the inspired admonition to put off pride and anger and to try to be more kind and loving to those we care about. If we could as individuals and as societies more fully put off the natural man and become like Christ, we would feel “ the sweet spirit of love and harmony and peace” and would be deeply blessed.
Other posts focusing on this session of conference
Nathaniel Givens –Good Timber Does not Grow At Ease
John Hancock- Warnings from Warnings from the Past
Michelle Linford – Creativity and Celebrating Success vs. The D.F.T. File
Chastity Wilson – When Thou Art Converted