A communication consultant I know puts out a regular promotional email, purporting to impart his special brand of wisdom. Last Friday's edition came as a confession couched in, "Seven Things I Learned from Losing My Temper."
My first thought was that this guy is north of 60 years old. If the old fellow is still learning seven things every time he blows his top, he ought to blow it more often—or he should have blown it earlier in life. In any case, our man leads off in a grave tone.
"I lost my temper yesterday," he writes. "I shouldn't have, and I truly regret it. But the fact is I did."
It is rare for me to go volcanic. It almost never happens. People who have known me for ten years, even fifteen or twenty years, will tell you the closest they have seen me approach it is mild irritation. Fortunately they were not at my side yesterday.
The particulars are unimportant. Suffice to say my inbox overfloweth with emails. One of yesterday's emails, spam from a complete stranger who appeared to be the weakest volt on the Internet, was just the stupidest thing I had ever read. It was idiotic.
Here was someone pretending to be wise who was emphatically insisting that reading literature was a waste of time. Apparently a STEM fanatic, he all but said literature was useless in today's world.
Now, I like to read. As I write these words I am midway through War and Peace. I have learned a great deal from books over the course of my life, and I am convinced that the liberal arts are the best path to a lifetime of wisdom, depth, insight, relational health, and critical thought. You can imagine my ire on reading the email in question.
I dashed off a suitable, polite note expressing a strong preference to be permanently removed from his distribution list. A minute later I received a surly reply. If there's one thing I don't want and don't need before my second cup of coffee it's surly.
So I called the guy, and I let him know that he wasn't the only surly person in the world. Boy, did I ever.
I got my point across, but I truly regret using some harsh language. (No, not profanity, which is a particular irritant to me. But I did use the words "Listen, buddy.")
To help others avoid experiencing a similarly reckless rampage, the communication consultant offers some life-coaching advice that he sums up as: "think, chill and stifle."
Reading his email, I had a few insights of my own—seven, as luck would have it—that I would like to share with the consultant:
1. You confess to feeling "mild irritation." That sounds like silent seething to me. You're a pressure cooker, dangerous to everyone around you. You know what I do when I feel "mild irritation"? I scream "jagoff!" at the driver who made me feel it, and I lay on the horn until I can't remember what the guy did to offend me. Try it sometime.
2. You confess to having had a knock-down brawl with a guy, and then say, "the particulars are unimportant." Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao are glad everyone doesn't share your high-minded point of view, unconcerned about how the fight went down or even who won—just satisfied, if saddened, to know that a fight has taken place.
3. You claim that you regret your telephonic terrorism, yet you still describe your victim as "the weakest volt" on the Internet, and accuse him of having written the "stupidest thing I have ever read." Well, I'd like to read the stupidest thing you've ever read. Because, again, you're pretty old, and by now I bet you've read some pretty stupid things—and written some too! But no time to inventory that, because you've got to hurry up and ...
4. ... tell us you're midway through War and Peace. Hate to point it out in public, my friend, but just about every Westerner with a college education is midway through War and Peace, and most of us will die midway through War and Peace. The middle of War and Peace is a mighty big place.
5. You say you have learned a great deal from books during your life. As you formulate your secret to sane living, try to imagine which one of those epic, passionate, earth-shattering books you've read would have ever been started or finished had their mildly irritated writers—your Homers, your Dostoyevskys, your Wildes, your Joyces—been inclined or able to follow your three-legged stool of emotional enlightenment: "think, chill and stifle." Think, Chill and Stifle, by Leo Tolstoy.
6. You dashed off a "suitable, polite note," and you received a "surly reply." How much do you wanna bet the other guy told his wife that he received a surly note from you, and that he responded with a suitable, polite reply.
7. "I got my point across, but I truly regret using some harsh language. (No, not profanity, which is a particular irritant to me. But I did use the words 'Listen, buddy.')" Wait, you are embarrassed and humiliated and throbbing with regret because you called the guy "buddy"? I mean, if you're going to feel this bad, you might as well have called him a shitheel, a dickbag or a douchenozzle.
Listen, turd burglar: I wake up some mornings feeling angry—about my prospects, about my sciatic nerve, about the impossibility of living happily among all the horny, crippled, starving reptiles crawling all over this big veiny testicle we live on, or about the Cubs Dave Kingman-like, free-swinging rookie third-baseman. I need to knock some heads together, and I know plenty of heads that require knocking. As the first-grader who was beating a kid about the head told my teacher wife after she broke up the fight, "I'm just getting my exercise, Miss Bosch!"
So very consciously, I lie in wait for some poor self-loving jamoke to say something fatuous so that I can attempt to delight Writing Boots readers by simultaneously savaging the a-hole, and salving my soul.
It usually doesn't take long to find some suitable prey. And promotional emails from priggish consultants are a pretty reliable place to look.
Please, keep me on your distribution list.