Controlling Your Anger Like Lincoln

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

By Alison Harner ‘24

Though Honest Abe was always known for his kind and understanding nature, do not believe that he didn’t occasionally lose his temper. In fact, he would even go to the point of writing seething letters to those who angered or disappointed him. The difference? He never sent them. 

Cited by Maria Konnikova in a New York Times article, Doris Kearns Goodwin explained that, “Whenever Abraham Lincoln felt the urge to tell someone off, he would compose what he called a ‘hot letter.’ He’d pile all of his anger into a note, (and) ‘put it aside until his emotions cooled down.’” These hot letters perhaps allowed Lincoln to maintain his empathy, even when it seemed nearly impossible.

One of the secrets in these “hot letters” is time. Lincoln let his anger settle overnight or over the course of a few days before he decided whether to mail the letters or discard them. He would read over them through new eyes and consider the helpfulness of the letter, keeping in mind the sort of reaction it may provoke. 

In today’s society of instant messaging, Tweets and messages can be fired out in the blink of an eye without the sender having time to cool down or consider alternative ways to improve their situation without ‘screaming’ into the social media void. It is scary the amount of damage and regret a person might bring upon themselves after pressing “send.” 

Thus, it is crucial that time is taken to cool down and reconsider the message one might wish to send, especially since they cannot be erased. Of course, anger can blind anyone, so it is expected that eventually something false or hurtful could be said; however, before posting, consider writing out any strong feelings, and don’t hold anything back. Spill each thought onto paper and then read them back the next day. Think: Where are these feelings coming from? Is it really necessary to say this? Is this completely true and thought-out? Ponder the feelings it might cause and the consequences that might come as a result.

Of course, it is extremely difficult to control anger in this way when it is so much faster and easier to post to the world how one may feel about one thing or another. Don’t expect this technique to be easy to master, and don’t think that it didn’t take Lincoln a day to figure things out, either. Nevertheless, when anger is left to sit and boil down, it may be embarrassing to read over those thoughts that seemed so desperate to be heard at the time. So, next time ranting in a tweet for the whole world seems ideal, rant instead in the form of writing and then read/listen through the ears of whoever might be receiving this message. Write it out and give it time, and soon the path to strengthening self-control and understanding will not seem far off. 

One thought on “Controlling Your Anger Like Lincoln

  1. Wouldn’t it be a better world if we were all able to write “hot letters” or emails and leave them in the drafts folder to help control our emotions? Really liked your use of both the past and present time periods to bring your perspective to light!

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