When my grandson Walter was in second grade, he told me that his teacher had taught him "the M word."
"What's that?" I asked.
"She says when people get mad they should not yell or scream. M is the first letter of mad, so they should just say M for a long time. MMMMMMMM!"
What a smart teacher, I thought. That would make the classroom much more pleasant.
I had picked Walter and his sister up to go to a playground, and as we returned to his home he suddenly said, "Granddad! Let's stop for ice cream!"
"Oh, I can't, Walter," I said. "I'd love to, but it is 5:30 and I promised to have you home for supper. It would ruin your appetite and your mom wouldn't appreciate it. Another time."
There was a long silence. Then I heard, coming from the back seat of the car, "MMMMMMMMM!"
There are times when I need the M word myself. I used to have a job working with a group of churches throughout the northeastern United States. There were about 60 congregations on my list. Once, when visiting a church in Massachusetts, a member of the church complained that I did not come often enough.
I tried to explain. "There are more churches than weeks in the year," I said. "And some churches are having problems and need me to come more often. I try to go where I am needed most. If your church had a problem of any kind and your minister phoned me, I would come right away. But when things are going smoothly I can't come more than once or twice a year."
She gave me a look that expressed disapproval.
"Well, how often do you think I should come?" I asked.
"At least once a month," she declared.
"I can't do that; sorry."
The more I thought about that the more irritated I became. How unreasonable! She really makes me angry. There is no understanding of my situation at all!
A couple of weeks later I was having lunch with a wise elderly minister and I unburdened myself by telling him this story. When I finished he said, "Charlie, Charlie! Don't be mad at her. She loves you. She wants to see more of you. Obviously you can't do what she wants, but she gave you a compliment. Get mad when someone wants you never to come at all."
Understanding where someone else is coming from while keeping control of your own schedule is wise. She can't make me come there, but she can't make me get mad either. I can understand what she wants and then do what I think is right. If I'm not threatened, I don't need to become defensive.
Albert Ellis, a famous psychologist, once said that we never get mad because of what happens to us, but because of how we interpret what happens to us. Proof? If you are on a crowded bus and someone bumps into you, your first reaction may be anger. But if you whirl around and discover that the person was blind, your anger disappears.
So, stay pro-active, not reactive. Try to understand others' points of view without letting them rule you.
If that doesn't work, just say "MMMMMMMMM!"
Charles Lamb, a retired minister, works part time as assistant to the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Youngstown.