The Talmud reading yesterday was about various personality types as it relates to anger. The various temperaments are:
A) Angers easily and is pacified easily
B) Hard to anger and hard to pacify
C) Hard to anger and quick to pacify
D) Quick to anger and hard to pacify
People with the C personality are the most pious. People with the D personality are “wicked.” A and B personalities are in somewhat neutral territory.
The rabbis make clear value judgments about which of the temperaments are better. For example, B, one who is hard to anger and hard to pacify, is not the worst temperament to have because most of the time, the person is not angry. It would take a lot to get this type of person riled up. But when they are angered, it takes them significant time to cool off.
A type B temperament is better than type A, one who is quick to anger and easily pacified. “A” personalities may have a skewed view of life because they very easily transition from periods of anger to periods of calm. They come to view anger as normal, whereas people with temperament B would find anger to be quite disturbing, as they are rare occurrences; type B people will do what they can to prevent becoming angry whenever possible.
The rabbis make some interesting points about human nature and social relations as they discuss the temperaments.
1) People can change for the better. Temperaments can be changed. The rabbis acknowledged it would be in poor form to rank the temperaments, and then say they are fixed for everyone. If you can’t change it, then there’s no way to improve, and therefore no justification for ranking them.
2) Anger causes harm, to yourself and others. In the text, the rabbis make several points that indicate that someone in an angry state may do something to irreparably harm relationships with his family or the community. In addition, being angry increases the odds one will make a poor and sinful decision. One rabbi explains sin as “a loss of spiritual equilibrium.”
3) There is such a thing as righteous anger. When discussing personality type C, the rabbis point out that if someone with such a gentle nature were to get angry, it must be for a good reason, since it is such a rare occurrence. It is right to be angry when it is addressed at injustice, for example.
4) Anger is natural. The rabbis conceded that everyone experiences anger. It would be impossible not to. They said even Moses exhibited anger at the Israelites.
It’s fascinating that rabbis a few thousand years ago had a deep understanding of human nature and its nuances, and used this knowledge to help people correct their deficiencies.
Far from being backward and ignorant, the ancients had advanced knowledge of how people behave that still applies to our lives today.
Perhaps we should pay more attention to what they had to say.