This year marks Paulette Gill’s 20th anniversary as a city bus driver. The mild-mannered Madison, Wisconsin, resident loves her job and cheerfully greets each patron who steps onto her bus.
In recent years, however, Gill has noticed a surge in the number of angry riders.
One customer became so disruptive that, despite repeated attempts to calm her down, Gill had to pull the bus over and request police intervention. Gill felt her stomach churn and adrenaline surge as she became the target of the woman’s vulgar verbal attack. “I had this feeling that she was about ready to charge me, come at me,” she said.
Whether victim or observer, an encounter with aggressive or angry behavior can catch anyone off guard. Experts say remaining calm is key to ensuring that a precarious situation doesn’t escalate. Anger management expert Ryan Martin’s advice in Psychology Today was,
“Stay calm, stay safe, and don’t make it worse.”
Gill said she remained calm by praying and quickly implementing the qualities she strives to live by as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, such as self-control and empathy. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” she said. “We all have that tendency to retaliate, but prayer helped me to keep myself in check.”
As a practice, Gill tries to preemptively avoid confrontation by treating others kindly and respectfully. “You never know what’s going on with a person in their daily lives,” she explained. “We all have bad days.”
Frontline workers, airline personnel, educators and others can attest to a trend of increased aggression, even becoming targets.
In fact, a Gallup Poll found higher levels of stress, sadness, anger and worry in 2020 than ever before at any point in the organization’s global tracking.
While working at a grocery store in Palmdale, California, Isaac Virgil said he’s watched shoppers becoming increasingly aggressive, especially when items have quantity limits in place. “I think people have just gotten more anxious and less patient,” said Virgil. “They seem to only care about themselves and what they need.”
He recalls customers grabbing at packages of toilet paper and attempting to yank them out of the arms of fellow shoppers.
Virgil defuses such situations by remembering the Bible principles his parents have instilled in him. “I’m always polite,” said Virgil. “I try and remember that sometimes the customer can just be having a bad day.”
For fire inspector Roy La Grone of Grand Rapids, Michigan, such volatile situations have posed a particular challenge. “I’ve had a hard time controlling my anger since I was a kid,” he acknowledged.
After a four-month medical leave that ended in early 2021, he was eager to return to work. On his first day back, he made a simple suggestion to the owner of the factory he was inspecting. In a split second, the man erupted into a profanity-laced rant.
To La Grone, the walk of 150 feet to reach the exit door felt like an eternity. The business owner followed him, yelling the entire way, while the office staff stared in stunned disbelief.
“I did everything that I could to try to calm him down,” La Grone said. “I didn’t overreact because I’ve learned that that type of behavior does not help the situation.”
Over the years, La Grone said he has worked hard to minimize his temper. He said that resources from jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, were particularly useful in dealing with stress, controlling his anger, and remaining calm rather than becoming provoked.
“Imitating the good examples of others and applying Bible principles has helped me to remain calm when under pressure,” he said.
More information, including practical tips on how to deal with anger, can be found at jw.org, the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses.