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Lynn Hummel: Fits of temper usually backfire

The McLean County Independent (Garrison, N.D.) recently published a photo of my confirmation class in the “Good Old Days” gallery.

It was a big class, 35 kids, all wearing white robes, a flower and, on the boys, a black bow tie.  In the middle of the picture was our handsome, smiling pastor, a talented, early - 40s man of God.

I know he was a man of God because he did what Jesus did —he lost his temper.  Jesus did it when all the hustlers, outlaws and conmen were setting up shop in the temple.  He turned their tables over and kicked them out.

Our pastor had a different situation.  We had classes every Saturday morning and we were expected to do our homework during the week (but never on Sunday).

On this particular morning, the pastor started asking questions and nobody had any answers, any energy or seemingly, any interest.

Finally, he lost it.

He had a powerful voice that never needed to be raised. But he raised it and raised it again. He gave us a reaming out that I’ll bet the other 34 classmates remember to this day.

He said, “I’m leaving you for an hour. I expect you to be quiet when I’m gone and I expect you to study like you’ve never studied before.”

He terrified us. We were quiet and we studied like we’d never studied before.

When he returned, he had calmed down and we had a few answers and managed to escape without serious injury.

That day was a turning point in 35 young lives. All 35 of us turned out to be much better than we would have otherwise.

Could he have achieved the same result with a patient, loving, forgiving, heart-to-heart talk? Not a chance.

Some temper tantrums have become famous.

Like when Boston Bruins hockey player Mike Milbury went into the stands and took a fan’s shoe and beat him with it.

Or when Bobby Knight, Indiana Hoosiers basketball coach, while coaching the U.S.A. team in the Pan American Games in Puerto Rico, threw folding chairs out on the basketball floor in protest over a ref’s decision.

Harry Truman was known to have a temper. His daughter, Margaret, aspired to be a concert singer. After one concert, Paul Hume, music critic for the Washington Post, wrote a column critical of her singing talent.

The president read the column and exploded.  He wrote the critic a letter.  He said, “It seems to me you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have become successful …  Some day I hope to meet you.  When that happens, you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beef steak for black eyes and perhaps a supporter below.”

You know what the crowds always shouted out to Truman: “Give ‘em hell, Harry.” Did Margaret Truman become a famous singer? No, she became a writer. Not everybody can sing, but anybody can write.

Sen. John McCain demonstrated a temper many times, more than once on tape.  One time, McCain walked in on one of his Republican Senate colleagues, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, expressing doubt about an immigration bill that McCain favored.

Cornyn said he saw a loophole that would allow felons to pursue a path to citizenship.  McCain was instantly furious.  He called Cornyn “chicken----” and said that Cornyn was just looking for an excuse to scuttle the bill.  Cornyn tried to explain, but McCain cut him off with “f--- you.”

I worked with a couple of partners who were in the real estate and construction business.  But it wasn’t going so well.  The real estate guy and the construction guy were nose to nose.

The real estate guy was shouting “I’m looking at these numbers and these numbers are telling me a story.  And the story they’re telling is that we’re losing money hand over fist.”

As he was saying this, he was poking his finger in the other guy’s chest for emphasis.  Bad idea.  The construction guy responded with a solid right fist to the nose.  End of nose.  End of partnership.

The moral of the story is that while an occasional temper tantrum may be biblical and produce a miracle, it’s more generally considered unsportsmanlike, bad manners, bad politics, bad business, immature, embarrassing and rude.

Further, when arguing face to face, never, never put your finger in the other guy’s chest.