“Mama Don’t Allow No Yellin’ Round Here”*

Posted by jlubans on June 30, 2020

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A year ago I read about how Inuit children in Canada’s northern territories learn, at mother’s knee, to manage anger.
This NPR report was of interest – given my book, Fables for Leaders - since it mentions story telling (including fables) as a way of teaching life’s fundamentals: Don’t go unsupervised near the water, don’t reach for food without asking, wear your hat in cold weather, etc.
One of the stories has a water monster ever lurking at water’s edge.
On his back is a gigantic pouch in which he stuffs captured children. That story would have kept me away from the water well into my teens!
On re-reading, I think the essay says to us adults some important things about anger.
The NPR story traces the footsteps of anthropologist Jean Briggs, who in the 1960s did a multi-year series of onsite observations on how the Inuit raise their children.
She noted that Inuit adults had an extraordinary ability to control anger: "They never acted in anger toward me, although they were angry with me an awful lot."
For herself, she was highly critical: "[I was] often impulsive in an antisocial sort of way. I would sulk or I would snap or I would do something that they never did."
The NPR reporter interviewed contemporary Inuit mothers. When it came to dealing with anger all the moms mentioned one golden rule: “Don't shout or yell at small children”.
Obviously, the parent’s not yelling is a primary driver in a child’s not yelling.
In the work place.
Leaping from an Inuit igloo into an air-conditioned office we find a strong contrast in attitudes about anger.
We Westerners are told, at times, that anger can be a good thing: “If used effectively, anger can be an effective leadership tool.”
But, like the proverbial Kick in the Ass (KITA) rage may be effective only for short-term results.
When hopping mad at work, we (and those around us) are rarely at our best. Out-of-control anger deters us from mindful thought and coherent expression – we literally “see red”.
Scientists observe that our wrathfulness “triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. …. The adrenal glands flood the body with stress hormones….
Our heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increase, the body temperature rises and the skin perspires.
The mind is sharpened and focused.”
However this focus may exclude most everything around us. We experience tunnel vision and a loss of awareness.
Worse is how we express our wrath: yelling, arguing, cursing and sarcasm.
And, anger may deter our getting the job done, making clear-headed decisions.
After a loss of temper, there’s always collateral damage: ruined relationships and wrong messages sent. Nor does the mea culpa bouquet of roses ever fully erase hurt feelings.
Our hissy-fit can turn off others from contributing; routine temper tantrums may imply to others that being ticked off is OK, an acceptable behavior in the organization’s culture.
When angry, we do not hear. We do not understand the other. Like enraged participants in a riotous protest – there’s only one-way - my way - and if you’re not with me, well then you are ‘agin me, so put 'em up!
I had a rare boss who, when in conflict, could rise above the fray, so to speak, and to observe cool-headedly the dynamics in the meeting – including his own!
As the Taoist reminds us, less paradoxically than usual: “The best fighter is never angry.”
The Inuit feel anger, but they are not consumed by it, ruled by it. Overt anger at sub zero temperatures may lead to destruction. Blowing your top while a polar bear poaches your catch of the day probably is not as good a survival technique as calmly and collectedly backing away.
Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychologist, says “if you practice having a different response or a different emotion at times when you're not angry, you'll have a better chance of managing your anger in those hot-button moments.”
Doing so, “is essentially helping to rewire your brain to be able to make a different emotion [besides anger] much more easily.".
There is of course no shortage of suggestions for anger management. Some of these I’ve augmented below with how the Inuit mothers teach their children:
Walk away until things calm down; then reflect on what happened and strive to do better; do a role play on what happened – do it playfully.
Do pinpoint the exact reasons why you were incensed.
Once you have identified the cause, consider coming up with different strategies for when you are provoked.
And, you can talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling and how to avoid pitching a fit.

*”Lord, child, we don't care what Mama don't 'low
We gonna be yellin’ anyhow
But Mama don't allow no shoutin' aroun’ here”

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© Copyright John Lubans 2020

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