After a year of pandemic isolation, Tampa, resident Gary Bagwell emerged to finally enjoy a “luxury” he longed for — a haircut. Sitting in the chair for the first time in 18 months, he relaxed and settled in for a little pampering.
When his barber asked a fellow stylist to make change for a $20 bill Bagwell was paying with, the burly co-worker reacted with a barrage of stinging expletives and repeatedly punched the barber, once in the face then ten blows to his head.
In an instant, the peace that Bagwell hoped for turned to panic.
“I’ve never seen such bizarre behavior in my life, said Bagwell. “I think people today are much more on edge.”
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.
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.”
Bagwell agrees. “Inserting myself into a volatile situation like this would only make matters worse,” he said, citing practical advice he was grateful to have recalled from his congregation meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Frontline workers, airline personnel, educators and others can attest to a trend of increased aggression, even becoming targets.
Seth Griggs, a 44-year-old resident of SW Florida, observed first-hand how explosive an everyday circumstance can become. “It was around 8:30 in the morning. It was sunny, just like any other normal day,” Griggs said, describing the scene as he pulled out of his driveway on the way to work. Moments later he noticed a car in his side-view mirror that had sped up to his bumper. Although the speed limit on his street is only 35, Griggs explained what happened next.
“They got over to pass. It wasn’t safe. There was clearly traffic coming at us and only a very short distance. There wasn’t enough time to pass me. So that’s why I felt like I had to brake in the road just to let them get around me.”
As the car whipped in front of his vehicle Griggs tapped his horn, trying to warn the other driver of the accident he feared was about to happen. Just a short distance later Griggs and the other driver stopped at a traffic light. He continued;
“When I got up to the light, we were side by side, but a few lanes apart and I looked over. It was a woman who was in her early 50’s. She had rolled her window down on her passenger side and was holding up her hand giving me explicit gestures. She also was saying something I couldn’t hear because my window was rolled up. I just couldn’t get over how angry she was. She was irate. She had completely lost it, really for no reason. She was the one that was driving dangerously, but was upset at me, I guess because I had gotten in her way somehow.”
Commenting on the increase of road rage Griggs surmised, “They seem to be very aggressive and very frustrated and I’ve seen that more than ever since COVID. You have to be even more cautious now because of the lack of concern for others.” Griggs credited a Bible proverb for helping him not to react or retaliate. “A mild temper can turn away rage,” he said. He also admits he will think twice before he uses his horn again.
“Most of the time you warn people with the sound of a horn. But in this day and age that can be taken as an act of aggression. Even if you have a right to do something, sometimes it’s better not to.”
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 anxious 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 verbal rant riddled with profanities.
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,” said La Grone. “I didn’t overreact because I’ve learned 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.