Spontaneous Emotional Combustion

Spontaneous combustion is the ignition of a pile of rags or bales of hay without an external heat source. The National Fire Protection Association estimates that 14,070 fires happen every year from spontaneous combustion. Prevention of these types of fires requires awareness of what causes them and intentionally looking for where they may occur. For example, a pile of rags in the garage that have been used to clean up oil or used to clean tools with oil are prime suspect for spontaneous combustion.

Of late I have been thinking about situations that are prime for spontaneous emotional combustion. A few weeks ago on an airplane one of the passengers had stopped in the isle during loading to put a small bag in the overhead bin. A backpack was already occupying the place where the passenger wanted the bag to be, but that didn’t matter, this person wanted their bag right there and was being rather belligerent about it. The flight attendant did a masterful job of diffusing the situation and the passage whose backpack had occupied the overhead bin was kind enough to allow the flight attendant to move it. Spontaneous emotional combustion averted.

Today I was driving through a busy grocery parking lot. The cross walk in front of the store was occupied with people and so I waited until it was clear before driving across. While driving slowly through the middle of the cross walk, a person anxious to get into the store was incensed that I did not stop as she approached the cross walk. I returned the impatience with a wave of my arms, gratefully no obscene gestures were exchanged, but internally I combusted. After calming down, I commented to Jami who was with me, “How can I stop from being immediately incensed?” Which started a conversation about the ability to remain calm in contentious situations.

What do you do to prevent internal emotional combustion? Each one of us will be in situations where something sets us off. How do you stop from exploding? Learning how to respond to situations rather than react to them is a learned and practiced skill. How do you practice the skill of patience? How do you practice patience? Or being able to respond to a situation that can set you off?

Just like preventing a spontaneous combustion fire, we use the same prevention techniques to prevent a spontaneous emotional fire.

1. Recognize situations that give rise to spontaneous emotional fires, i.e. crowded hot airplanes; crowded shopping malls; rude people; etc.

2. Imagine yourself in that situation and think of three ways you could effectively respond to the situation rather than react; i.e. do you need to take deep breaths in the situation? Do you need to see people as people not objects in your way? Do you need to smile and acknowledge those around you?

3. Evaluate situations where you did react and determine what you might do different next time.

Consistent consecutive practice will be what improves your ability and skill to diffuse combustible situations. Set a streak to review at least one situation that could combust weekly and envision two different ways you could effectively diffuse the situation. Today each one of us can contribute to a peaceful world by practicing and being noncombustible.

Keep Streakin’,


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