Being Good Tempered
It is hard to live or work with people who are unpredictable.
This page is about the other side of the coin: how to cultivate a good or even temper.
Like Friendliness, good temper is a quality that makes people easier and more pleasant to be around.
People with 'good temper' are often referred to as amiable or equable, meaning that they are easy to get along with. They tend to have good emotional intelligence and be charismatic.
Definitions of ‘temper’
‘Temper’ is an interesting word. It derives from the Latin temperare meaning to moderate or restrain, hence the idea of ‘tempering’ as ‘moderating’. We talk about someone being a ‘tempering influence’, meaning that they are able to restrain those around them.
But 'temper' is also used to mean both state of mind or mood, and uncontrolled anger. We describe people as being ‘in a temper’ when they are cross or angry. So the use of ‘good’ is important here to signal the element of moral goodness that is required to be able to manage temper and anger.
The Importance of Anger
Being good-tempered does not mean tolerating unpleasant or bad behaviour, or never getting angry.
Being too malleable or persuasive is not the same as being good-tempered.
The man who is angry at the right things and with the right people, and, further, as he ought when he ought, and as long as he ought is praised.
Sometimes anger is necessary and important. For example, if your own or someone else’s rights have been infringed, you may rightly feel anger, and the need to correct the situation. Good-tempered people are able to do this well, and without causing offence. Like friendly people, they are master of their emotion and do not let it master their reason.
Good temper governs anger, not the other way round.
Good-tempered people can assert themselves appropriately to ensure that they and others are treated with respect. To learn more about assertiveness see our page Assertiveness an Introduction
What Should Make You Angry?
There are many things that can irritate us, from lateness through to rudeness, or even just being tired and a bit stressed.
But rightful anger, Aristotle suggested, is only felt by those who are good-tempered when they have been treated with contempt, spite or insolence.
- Contempt is an unpleasant feeling about something that you consider unimportant. If you have been treated with contempt, you may feel that your views or feelings have been treated as less important than someone else’s, or that you have been overlooked in some way. You may have a burning feeling that you have been treated unfairly.
- Spite is taking action to ensure that someone else does not get what they want. The action is taken simply because you want to stop them, not because you want that something yourself.
- Insolence is doing or saying things that cause others to feel ashamed or embarrassed.
In all three, there is an element of pleasure in causing pain or hurt; these are not inadvertent actions, but deliberate.
This is partly why it is so unpleasant to be on the receiving end of any of them; someone is making a deliberate effort to hurt you in some way.
When you feel anger, and you think you have been treated with contempt, spite or insolence, take a moment to check that you have not climbed the ‘Ladder of Inference’.
A simple question or two can uncover whether you are making unjustified assumptions about the motives of others.
Assessing Your Temper
The first step towards mastering your temper, and becoming ‘good-tempered’, is to work out how you react when you are angry. There are four main types of temper or anger:
- Hot-tempered people react quickly. Their anger flares up instantly, but also dies down fast. Five minutes later, they will probably have forgotten that they have been angry. But those around them may not forget so quickly, and may be confused and hurt by the rapid change.
- Choleric people are also quick to anger, and are ready to be angry with anyone, on any occasion. They are also described as ‘prickly’.
- Sulky people hold a grudge, and may take a long time to calm down. They are hard to appease when they have become angry.
- Bad-tempered people tend to be angry at the wrong things, more than they should, and take longer to calm down. They often want to ‘get even’.
Consider which of these you tend towards. You may find that it helps to think through specific occasions, and consider with whom you get angry, how much, whether it is in proportion to the offence, and how long you stay angry afterwards. This will also help you to work out your ‘triggers’, so that you are aware of when you are likely to be angry, and can remain in control.
Managing Your Temper
Our page on Anger Management contains some general strategies for managing anger.
However, it may also be helpful to consider some very specific questions when you feel ‘righteous indignation’, which will support the development of ‘good temper’.
- Can I do anything to improve the situation or compensate me (or those to whom wrong has been done) for the losses, and punish the wrongdoers? If not, then it is time to calm down and move on.
- Will what I can do regain the respect that I feel that I have lost? If not, don’t do it.
- Is it really worth it? How much respect have I lost, and how much has the wrongdoer gained as a result of the insult? And how much do I have to lose if I take action?
‘Don’t get mad, get even’
Sally was working on a difficult project, which took a lot of time and energy, and involved careful compromises on several different aspects. One day, on the phone, a colleague from another department suggested that her work on the project would be very different if she had children, because then she would “care more”. She was furious: he had brought into question her professional competence. She stormed off to complain to her boss, Richard.
Richard was always calm. He greeted her story with gentle amusement, and allowed her a chance to vent. He agreed that it was outrageous to have questioned her professional integrity.
Then he said, “Don’t get mad, get even. By which I don’t mean get revenge, but get your relationship back onto a calm, professional footing. You can’t work effectively otherwise, and it’s you who will suffer more.”
He was right, and she recognised that immediately. Sometimes you have to put your anger aside, and work together for the general good.
It is also worth asking whether you are really, genuinely angry with the person who has provoked you, or whether you are just looking for a fight. Are you, perhaps, a bit short on sleep and taking it out on the world in general? Are you feeling irritable about something or someone else?
Before you react, and especially if you are very hot-tempered, ask yourself if it’s really worth it.
Use your reason to master your anger and you will be well on the way to developing a ‘good temper’.
‘Turning the other cheek’
Christianity preaches that if someone hits you, you should ‘turn the other cheek’; in other words, not react angrily but allow them to hit again if they wish to do so.
No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work.
Aristotle’s teaching was slightly different, and perhaps more ‘human’, since he believed that it was acceptable and human to be angry if someone was contemptuous of you.
Which ideal you choose to aspire to is of course up to you, but you should strive never to be contemptuous of those who do not either aspire or achieve the same as you.
You should also not beat yourself up if you have difficulties in living up to your ambitions. We are all human, after all!