I used to have a hot temper and was always quick to scowl when something didn't go my way. Yet, as soon as my emotions erupted, my stern father would force me to review my absurd behavior. Then, in the cold light of day, I would blush and admit I was not proud of those hysterical moments and I should do better.
It was this determination that slowly pushed me to explore a sedate frame of mind.
Later in life, I learned more about the consequences of randomly throwing a tantrum through health programs, ones based on the Chinese traditional medicine theory that fury does damage to the livers and corrupts a person's personality. So, in the pursuit of being a decent man and to protect my health, I've been consciously working hard to lock away my irascible side.
However, I can see why doing this is easier said than done, especially living in a big city where there are just too many things to get on your nerves.
The daily commute is arguably the first challenge for anyone who has a full-time job but lives some distance away from work. If you hit the road by bus or car, rush hours can burn you up.
Sure, we can count on the subway to transport us back and forth without getting trapped in traffic gridlocks - but it's still irritating to get pushed and shoved at entrances, inching along in packed transfer tunnels at connecting stations.
Either way invariably evokes "commuter rage". I've seen many minor road accidents happen because of lousy driving by frustrated motorists and witnessed people come to blows over someone's toes being stepped on during a rush to get on the train. The yelling and fighting never helps ameliorate the situation.
Going to the banks can be another teeth-gnashing experience: you take a number only to find there are already 30 people ahead of you. Even if you're a VIP, a customer in front can hog the counter for more than 30 minutes. You can shout your complaints to bank staff, but that seldom speeds things up.
Eventually, you get out of there and you drag yourself to some good restaurants to enjoy a tasty treat. But the waiter coldly hands you a paper slip, telling you all the tables are full and to wait at the door.
If only we can scream all the troubles away, but it doesn't work. We can resort to getting physical, but that doesn't do any good either.
I believe people who make a scene by getting stuck into public disputes are just contributing to the mess. We're only human, and sometimes I admit I often get annoyed myself when confronted by inconsiderate people. But as soon as I'm about to give in to my emotions, I see the raging monster I am about to release, the one my father compelled me to see in retrospect. The embarrassment and guilt soon follow, evoking my earlier resolution of keeping myself in check.
Thankfully, it works like a charm. It takes no time to dampen the flames of anger inside me.
There's no denying that it's annoying to be kept waiting and to stand cheek to jowl in a crowd, but if we can see them as a few facts of life or a small price to pay considering so many other perks the big city offers, won't it be easier to find peace?
Next time you're on the edge, ask your doctor how many brain cells will be lost in your flare-up. Maybe it will help. After all, only we can control our temper, decide whether to let the unpleasantness go by and be happy or hang on to it and be sulky.
The author works for the China Daily website.
(China Daily 03/15/2011)