Published On: Thu, Jan 13th, 2022

Remaining Calm in an Angry World: How Some Floridians Cope

Gary Bagwell

Boca Raton, FL – After a year of pandemic isolation, Tampa, Florida, 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. 

Jael Dell’Aquilla, a transportation security officer living in Lehigh Acres, sees the trend. “Disrespectful and very, very angry” is how she described the increase of people displaying this behavior, who flow through airport security checkpoints on a daily basis. Even so, she tries to be empathetic. “Every single passenger is going through things that we don’t know about,” she said.

This was true of one passenger, whose bag got pulled for further inspection. The woman became very angry and began screaming at Dell’Aquilla, stating not to touch her bag. “At that moment in time, I prayed. I felt calm” said Dell’Aquilla, who starts her day with a Bible verse or Scriptural thought, which helps her prepare for such situations..

Instead of reacting to the passenger’s anger, Dell’Aquilla expressed concern for the woman in a soothing manner. The woman burst into tears and explained she had just lost her mother in death and that this was her mother’s bag. Dell’Aquilla was able to comfort the grief-stricken woman, give extra care to her mother’s belongings and deescalate a situation that could have led to an even more volatile confrontation.

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 started 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 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.

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