I don’t consider myself an angry person. That being said, when I was child, I do remember kicking a hole in my wall. Which I lied to my parents about despite the fact there could have been no other possible explanation. I do recall almost breaking a few controllers when playing some video games. Though in my defense, I don’t think I’ve ever actually broken a controller. And I must confess, there have been a few moments when, for a half a second, where I maybe, might have, kinda, raised my voice to my wife (jokingly) in frustration.
So there are some issues there. Which is why I recently started reading a Jewish book on relationships, The River, The Kettle, The Bird. (Which by the way, most of the ideas in this blog post come straight from it). It is there I stumbled upon chapters regarding anger. Specifically chapter 8: Affronts, Real, and Imagined. It notes that in Judaism, anger is forbidden and is viewed as a form of idol worship. Anger is the worship of self, meaning it is centered around one’s ego. It’s over these contemplations that I started to think, “This is something I should strive to take on.”
Maybe it was a coincidence (there are no coincidences), but I have not had my anger tested so frequently in one 24 hour period as I did that day.
The Long Hold
I had been waiting on a refill on a prescription for a couple days. The previous day I had been put on hold for quite a while, only to find they didn’t have the medication and was told to call tomorrow. It was in the middle of my wife and my morning workout that it dawned me to call the pharmacy asap. If I got them early, maybe the wait time wouldn’t be so bad.
I put in my Bluetooth headphones, placed the call (while still continuing the workout) and was immediately put on hold. There was no music, no incessant beep, nothing to distract me from continuing to be present during my exercising. Except for building anger with every minute the pharmacist didn’t pick up the phone.
Instead of keeping up with my wife, I continually checked the call length timer and took frequent breaks from the workout. Now, I realized that Hashem was testing me. Clearly, I had said I was trying to overcome my anger, so of course, Hashem was going to give me the opportunity to demonstrate where I stood. I thought to myself, “What does Hashem want me to do? Just connect with him? Just keep a pleasant demeanor?” But by the time the timer reached about 15 minutes, I was done with the workout and had started pacing.
It was at 18 minutes that I took my wife’s phone and called the pharmacy, thinking that I had been put on hold and been forgotten about, so a new call might remind them of my purgatory. As I navigated through the recorded prompts, I told myself, “Don’t mention that you’ve been on hold for almost 20 minutes. That’s the test.” Finally as my wife’s phone started to ring for the pharmacy, my phone suddenly got answered. What were my first words?
“Hi, I’ve been on hold for 20 minutes, I’m just trying to see if my prescription came in.”
No response. “Hello?” I repeated over and over again. Nothing. Except the following click and dial tone.
I was livid. It was bad. BH, Rachel was there to calm me down. I don’t at all recall what she said, but it worked.
Missing the Target
Later that day, my wife and I were at Target. It was there that Rachel found a Pop Socket. You know, one of those plastic things you stick on the back of your phone’s case and it pops up so you can better hold it. Rachel’s had broken and she was looking for a new one. Well low and behold, Target had a selection all marked down 70%. What a find! We proceeded to the self checkout, but when we scanned the Pop Socket it rang up full price.
Now, I have to inform you that I worked in a grocery store at 14, a Best Buy 16, a Gamestop shortly after, and restaurants all through my 20s. That experience spliced with the fact that I’m a people pleaser means that customer service is in my blood. Poor customer service irks me. Insultingly bad customer service is an injustice.
We hit the “ask for assistance” button and the Target employee sauntered over in a way that suggested, “Why are you bothering me?” She scanned the item with her smartphone scanner and responded, “It’s full price.” To which I explained, it was in a whole clearance section.
“Well, you’re gonna hav’ta go take a picture.”
I get that they need to confirm the item is marked down. But at any other store, they’d call someone to go check on it. Or at the very least, ask the customer to show an associate. The attitude should be that the store’s system is likely wrong and they’ll go fix it. But here it was being insinuated that I was trying to pull a fast one.
I went to the aisle’s end cap, took a photo of the entire section, the item in question, and even grabbed another one from the shelf to bring back. Upon my return, the associate tried to scan the barcode from my phone’s picture (which clearly said 70% off) and the item still rang up full price. The woman then snorted back, “I’ll honor it this time.”
“You’ll honor it this time? It’s your sale! To do otherwise would be false advertising. And you’re trying to tell me you’re doing me a favor by doing the least amount of customer care possible?” I wanted to say all that and more while asking to speak to the manager and then going home to write the Target corporate office. But at the same time, I was wearing a yarmulke with my tzitis hanging out. So I should have left it, as I knew it was another test.
However, I couldn’t help myself, so I simply said, “You have to honor it.”
There were other tests to my anger that day. Issues with my family concerning Thanksgiving, what happened when I picked up my prescription, etc. But I think I have made my point. However, the thing that perplexed me about these tests is that it didn’t seem like my ego was what was being challenged, despite what The River, The Kettle, and The Bird was teaching. Sure you could argue that being made to wait or having to prove the Pop Socket was discounted could be considered insults. But to me, I don’t think I saw them as insulting me, personally. There is a way customer service should be done and these individuals are disregarding that value. Is that about ego?
But then, this morning, as I was continuing to read through the book I got my answer. One of the main affronts to our ego is disobedience. The section reads “We are all hurt if our wishes are not carried out. In our all-consuming selfishness, we must have all our desires fulfilled. Anyone who frustrates these desires is, by definition, our enemy.” (pg. 87)
My desires that I should be answered by the pharmacy in a timely manner, that I should be cared about as a customer of a store, and that customer experiences should be something an employee should work to make pleasant, opposed to making me feel like a nuisance, were not met. At that point these people became my enemy and I wanted to tear them down. Intellectually, I knew they were tests from Hashem. But emotionally, I wanted to decimate them.
In our pursuits to become better people, we must face tests to prove we’ve grown. It’s just how it works. The fact that you can expect the tests should give you two comforts. One, that God is present and cares about whether you pass your test. And two, it should make the test easier. Since you know it’s a test, you aren’t as likely to be caught off guard. But the truth is, it is a long way between knowing what is good and doing what is good. The longest distance is between the head and the heart. Here’s hoping that I pass my next tests. Though, by no means, am I asking to be tested.