On the value of “One” in defusing anger

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit with a close relative for an extended period of time. It was a good visit, as I normally get along quite well with this relative, whom I’ll call George. Occasionally, though, George and I end up practically yelling at each other– some might even say actually yelling — while discussing certain issues. Or simply arguing about what one of us just said in the conversation. Or over how one of us did so.

Hmmm… Much of what happens in this video seems strangely familiar

While these encounters don’t come to physical blows — like this case featuring some distant relatives…

Not this bad, but close!

…, they are disturbing nevertheless. As it doesn’t help either of us when this happens. And I strongly prefer not having my anger rule how I speak with others.

“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”
– Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary


Related to that issue, I have known the following advice for quite some time:

“When angry count ten, before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.”
– Thomas Jefferson


Despite that fact, I never seemed to remember to even begin counting to ten when fueled by anger. Probably because I am so focused on thinking of what I want to say and how important it seems to do so at the time. And possibly the idea of counting to ten seems impossibly long when emotionally charged up in those moments. Read on to learn how I might have stumbled across a way around these impediments to following Mr. Jefferson’s advice.


While surfing the Web at George’s house, I ran across a comment at a political news/advocacy website in which someone advised another forum member to cool off by counting to ten in reaction to a comment posted by another user. While reading that post, I was struck by the following thought: Because counting to ten can seemed waytoo involved when consumed by anger, why not just start by first learning to count to “One” in those circumstances? Because all I would have to do is think of only one simple thing at that moment: “One”. And if I could master that practice, perhaps I could work my way up to actually counting to whatever number was needed for the anger to pass.

When I shared this idea with George, he agreed that it had promise. And as we discussed it further, he got excited enough about it to take the time to create a visual aid to help him to remember “One” in those circumstances.

Did that reminder work for George? Did he ever use “One” to help quell his angry speech? Frankly, he has since conveyed to me that he had not. Not even once. And he assured me that he had had plenty of opportunities to do so in the ensuing months since we first discussed the notion while sitting at his kitchen table.

But come to think of it, I can only remember at most two times, but most specifically once since that time, when I had invoked “One” to help me deal with the impulse to speak in anger. In fact, it happened the very same day that George and I had first discussed the matter! Read on for my account of what transpired.


A few hours after George and I had spent basking in our mutual mental comfort at having explored and recognized the promise of “One” to help each of us combat our individual tendencies to have anger take deleterious control of our speech, we got into a heated exchange over an issue we strongly disagree on. As best as I can recollect, we had never gotten so worked up with each other when discussing that issue. But this time, we both lost our cool and were practically shouting at each other in a matter of moments of talking quite civilly on the matter.

With intense anger flaring in my mind as George was pressing home a point, I realized that I was no longer caring about what he was saying. Knowing that I had mentally shut George out because of my anger, and having him continue to speak at that point would be fruitless for both of us, I interrupted him by loudly saying “ONE!” while looking intently at him. Thankfully, he instantly recognized what I meant by this, respected it, and stopped speaking. Both now silent, we sat for a minute or two before George started speaking again in a calmer voice. And after exchanging more words at reasonable decibels, and lacking any accusatory tone or elements, we both apologized for letting our respective anger rule us at that time despite our best intentions otherwise.

So, what was the value of “One” in this circumstance? Did I use it to keep myself from speaking in anger? Not really. My specific intent was to signal to George that I was no longer listening to what he was saying, and I hoped that he would recognize that he was probably doing the same thing. And most likely because we had discussed “One” as an anger management tool so promisingly earlier that day, it served as a reminder that neither of us wanted to speak that way with each other.

Reviewing the experience, though, several times since then, I realized this: if you say “One” with purpose in those moments and hold your tongue in the final position of that single syllable, it is nearly impossible to say another word.

Don’t believe me? Try it now. Say “One”, and focus on how the airway from your lungs through your mouth is closed off by your tongue as it presses up against the roof of your mouth.

Do you see how that works? If not, try following along with the instructor in this video tutorial on pronouncing “N” in American English, and pay special attention to words that end in that letter:

Speaking English – How to pronounce the letter “N”.

Or cut to the chase to see how the mouth parts work to create the American English “N” sound in this embedded website of the University of Iowa’s Phonetics Flash Animation Project:

For N, click on the purple ‘nasal’ button, then /n/ on the left. Note: To then see the step-by-step diagram, click the right-hand radio button at the bottom next the small diagram of a lower face with numbers.

See what I mean? Not yet? Try this: Say “One”, holding that final “N” sound position, and try to say something — in fact, anything at all. Heck, you could even try stretching the rest of your mouth wide open while holding your tongue in that final “N” position, but the only angry sounds you are likely to be able to make are nasally grunts and squeals! In fact, consistent with this articulatory anatomical characteristic of “N” is that it is also called a nasal stop. And perhaps remembering that might better mentally equip you to invoke “One” to sound-wave a verbal flag of truce during an outbreak of war using words. And at the same time, as mentioned above, saying “One” can get you started counting — mentally, of course, as you hold the “N” position at the end of “One” — to ten, a hundred, or however high you feel is necessary to let anger that you don’t want to control your speech to pass.


So, will “One” actually help you manage what you say when you are angry? Consider trying it out on your own by watching or reading something you know is likely to get you worked up and cursing at your computer screen. Then try “One” out with a friend you can trust to really rile you up without the incident damaging your relationship. If you find that those practice sessions suggest that “One” has some potential to work for you, see if you can remember to use it in unrehearsed circumstances that warrant doing so.

All of the above being said, I fully recognize that “One” could utterly fail to help you keep from speaking in anger. If that happens, and you find yourself unable to keep from spitting verbal fire despite your best intentions, a more fundamental change in your outlook on such matters may better serve you. Perhaps as discussed here:

Transforming Anger Into Loving-Kindness ~ A Teaching by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

If those efforts also fails, there are methods to hold one’s tongues that are sure to keep you from speaking in anger.

This surely is a way to keep from speaking in anger!


The Tightwire Guy

P.S. If you find that “One” helps you better manage those angry moments in your life, pay it forward by sharing these thoughts with a friend or two you think might also benefit from learning this. But, you’d probably be wasting your time with folks who subscribe to a converse philosophy regarding anger management.

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