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By Dr. Harold Sala

No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  1 Corinthians 9:27

Do culture and education really change people?  Or do they simply give people a cloak of respect and a veneer of civility? Is the man who fights traffic on the morning commute in a major city any different from the tribal man in Africa who battles savage tribesman from a different village? “Oh, a great deal different,” you may say. But the real answer depends not on culture or the years of education, nor the stratum of society where your friends are, but rather how a person reacts to hostility.

Take the case of a businessman who is on his way home from the office. The car in the left lane cuts in front of him and jams on the brakes. He accelerates, cutting around him, noticing that the driver is a kid with long hair and earrings. Rage hits him like boiling water, and he’s furious–out of control. Yes, he knows better. Yes, he knows that people get killed doing that, sometimes because the individual in the other car has a gun under the seat and doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

Just a minute. This man is a middle manager in his company, a college graduate, a husband and dad who takes his kids to school on his way to the office every day. He’s a respected member of the community, but his conduct isn’t any different from the tribesman who takes his bows and arrows to defend his small garden from the invasion of a hostile neighbor.

When your space is invaded, when someone is in your face, you tend to react without thinking of what you are doing or the consequences, and your reaction is a knee-jerking act of hostility that can get you killed.  Furthermore, in a moment it has reduced you to the lowest primal denominator–a combatant who treats the man he dislikes exactly as he is being treated. You have let the person you dislike drag you to his level, and then you react in the same manner as the person you detest.

When someone does you wrong, when someone takes advantage of you, do you retaliate with the same kind of treatment, or do you think, and then act as God would have you, not as a savage?

Simply put, how do you keep from losing it, from becoming so angry that you aren’t thinking or acting rationally?  How do you manage yourself rather than the one you detest?  That’s the real issue. It’s keeping your cool when your adversary is hot under the collar.

Frankly, you have to go beyond the perimeters of our culture today because individuals with both culture and education often have no answers. I go back to a timeless book, the Bible, and to the source of our strength, God who gives us strength to control ourselves in times of great stress.

Paul wrote, “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:5, NKJV), and again, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody” (Romans 12:17).

When you start to lose your cool and feel the heat rising, try this.

First, think. Think of your family, or yourself, and the consequences of doing something rash, something stupid.

Next, take control of yourself. Sometimes you have to stuff your anger and say, “I refuse to let that jerk pull me down to his level. He’s not worth it.”

Next, back off from the situation. You don’t have to prove that you are stronger, that your car is faster, that you can rise to his challenge.

Then breathe a quick prayer, “God, help me right now!” And with those five words, you’ll find a peace and a control that keeps you in command.

Resource reading: Matthew 7:24-27