Don’t Get Mad, Get Even-Tempered

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People play a game with you. They promise you something, and the when you take them up on it, they don’t remember even making the promise. You are seething. You want to punch them in the mouth. You want to get even. But suppose you do. Suppose you punch them in the mouth or say something to them in an angry voice. What will that do? You’ll end up looking bad and they’ll give you an “I got you!” smile.

Don’t get even. Get even-tempered. Yes, that’s one of those things that are easier said than done. Every cell in your body is doing somersaults when you experience somebody being mean to you. You want to strike back, teach him or her a lesion, and let that person know you won’t be treated that way.

Getting even is immediately gratifying. But what does it do in the long run? The world is full of people and groups and nations that get even. One gets even and then the other gets even and then the other gets even and then the other gets even and it turns into an endless cycle. We delude ourselves that when we get even that will be the end of it. But that isn’t the end of it.

Often, getting mad is exactly what your protagonist wants. When you get mad, you lose. He has drawn you into the battle. Even if you get even, you lose. Getting even once leads to getting even again. It is in our blood and our whole life becomes a life of strife where we must be constantly on guard to get even. It can’t possibly foster a life of peace and harmony.

On the other hand, if you refrain from striking back you win. As I said, it is hard not to strike back. Somebody says, “You’re so stupid!” and you want to reply, “Not as stupid as you!” It is a human tendency to get even. If you don’t, you feel hurt and the hurt stays inside of you and you think you have to do something about it. You think that hurt will never go away unless you do something about it.

But the hurt doesn’t stay inside of you. It goes away in time. You calm down and become even-tempered. The antagonist is waiting for you to try to get even, but you don’t. He is waiting and waiting. You go on with your life. You don’t pay anymore attention to him. He is unimportant to you. He is an insulting person and you have no room in your life for insulting people.

He says, “Didn’t you hear me, I said you’re stupid!” he said, trying to egg you on.

You don’t answer him. You are working on something on your computer.

“I said you’re stupid! Are you just going to take it?”

You work on your computer without looking at him.

“Oh, you think you’re superior, is that it?” he goads. You work on your computer. You say nothing. You don’t look at him.

Finally, he laughs and goes away, trying to convey the message that he has triumphed over you. But he has not triumphed. You have triumphed by not being sucked into the trap he has set up.

Time passes. He may take several more swipes at you. You don’t respond. Soon he stops taking swipes at you because it doesn’t pay off. You don’t fall into the trap. All his usual methods don’t work. You wait it out. Before long it begins to dawn on him that you are onto something. You have some inner knowledge that he doesn’t have. You are content with your self. You are even-tempered. He begins to respect you; maybe he even looks up to you in a begrudging way.

One day he says, “Let’s have lunch.”

You say, “OK.”

During the lunch you ask, “Why did you want to have lunch with me?”

“It seemed the thing to do.”

“I experienced you as being angry and insulting to me before. What was that about? Why did you want to insult me?”

“I don’t know. Maybe…I don’t know…maybe I was…I don’t know…”


“Maybe I was jealous.”

The two of you have a talk and resolve the conflict that led to the original animosity. He has discovered that he can’t win by using his old methods of trying to bait you into a fight. He has learned that “if you can’t lick them, join them.” By not fighting back you have forced him to relate. You win but he also wins. Now you have an honest friendship where you can be mutually respectful and supportive. Now you talk and talk and talk.

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APA Reference Schoenewolf, G. (2016). Don’t Get Mad, Get Even-Tempered. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 17, 2016, from updated: 23 May 2016Views expressed are those solely of the writer and have not been reviewed. Originally published on on 23 May 2016. All rights reserved.


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