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During my career on the bench, I saw a significant number of people in situations that were unpleasant.

Criminal defendants and crime victims are an obvious example. However, even in civil cases, judges regularly encounter people in conflict. Divorcing spouses are often full of anger. People who feel they have been discriminated against by their employer are likewise very emotional.

While lawyers know they must maintain objective, clear minds, even they sometimes boil over when they perceive opposing counsel as acting like the south end of a north-bound mule. Frankly, I have never missed that part of the work.

Now, when I watch, read or listen to the news, I get that same feeling I used to have when dealing with difficult people. There seems to be so much conflict and anger. I wonder if our leaders are helping to change this or making it worse.

Recently, I listened to a sermon delivered by my pastor, the Rev. Scott Keeble. He quoted verse 8 from Psalm 145. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” That is a very comforting statement for people of faith.

This column is not devoted to matters of faith, but the verse got me thinking about the worldly impact of taking out “The Lord” and having each person replace it with his or her name. Thus John or Joan would commit to acting with grace and compassion while being slow to anger and rich in love.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, one who is gracious is “marked by kindness and courtesy.” So if Roger is gracious, he would be less likely to be in the “me first” or “me only” crowd.

For example, when driving, he would not tailgate the car in front of him who is already going 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. He would be aware that other people inhabit the planet. He would be more sensitive to their right to peacefully occupy it with him. He would be a better listener and would try better to understand others.

Even when he disagrees, he would be more inclined to tolerate those whose opinions did not match his.

Webster defines compassionate as “sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” So, if Rhonda is compassionate, she, too, would be aware of the feelings of others. She would seek to reconcile where she saw division.

We have so many divisions in our country. Some are within the family. Others are society wide. Rhonda would recognize that we are entitled to our beliefs and opinions but would be better off if we did not demonize others just for disagreeing. She would understand that step one in alleviating others’ distress is avoiding being a cause of that distress

We do not need the dictionary to understand the phrase “slow to anger.” I fear the trend has become the opposite. When things do not go as we think they should, we go ballistic. Too many people seem to be walking around ready to explode with little provocation. (I’ll start working toward this tonight driving home from the office.)

Successfully achieving this characteristic would dramatically reduce domestic violence, incidents of road rage and physical assaults related to wearing or not wearing masks. Furthermore, if one is slow to anger, he or she will be more likely to forgive before reaching the state of anger.

When I think of rich, I think of abundance. Not everyone can be rich in monetary terms.

I suggest we can all be rich in love. People who have an abundance of money can run out. Some wealthy people have chosen to give their fortunes away. Once it is gone, there is no more to share.

The person who has chosen to be rich in love will not run out. Such a person can show love to others and have more to give to the next person he or she encounters. A person who is rich in love is surely not a racist. Neither is that person going to have animosity toward others because of differences in lifestyle, political beliefs or appearance. That person will forgive rather than retaliate.

I am certainly not so naïve as to think all Americans will embrace these notions. I believe there are people who can honestly say they already do, and their actions back it up. If we can continue to increase that number and the newly added do just a little more to be gracious, compassionate, loving and slow to anger, our country will better for it.

David Bernthal of Mahomet is a retired 21-year federal magistrate. He is a counsel with the Webber & Thies PC law firm. His email is

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