Last year, I was involved in a circumstance that greatly affected me and helped codify my deepest beliefs. This circumstance very likely would have resulted in needless violence. It did not.
My racing teammate and I were at a National Run-off race where we did not have the outcome we wanted, and were both extremely stressed. On Sunday, the end of the event, we were loading the trailer when we discovered another trailer had been placed in a manner that was blocking access to our trailer. In racing, it’s considered poor form to move another person’s equipment without permission – understandably so. We could not see an alternative, and we very much wanted to leave. We decided to tow the trailer out of the way… probably further than we needed to…
As you may have guessed, the owner of the trailer came back, and was not amused to see his trailer moved a fair distance. As you may expect, he confronted us. At this time, I should mention this racer resembled a UFC fighter – extremely fit, strong, and tall. This is not an exaggeration. However, there were two of us, and one of him. We began a less than productive exchange of profanities and blame.
You can imagine that this exchange escalated quickly. He felt our actions were uncalled for, and vice versa. The next stage of escalation involved him coming up to me and staring me dead in the eyes. We were at a détente – both “sides” awaiting the first strike to retaliate.
While staring into this man’s eyes, something unusual happened. My brain quickly began processing every possible outcome and permutation of the inevitable fight to come. As Jim Morrison said, “They’ve got the guns, but we’ve got the numbers.” Namely, we had many tools that easily can be weapons. While he was strong, he was singular, and we plural.
Then it happened. Somewhere inside of my mind, I heard one word, “why?” I haven’t been in a “physical altercation” for quite a long time. If I was going to be in one, I had to know why. Instead of throwing a punch, or picking a hammer, screwdriver, etc., I asked him one question. “Why don’t you tell me what happened today.”
As it turned out, he was not having a good day. In fact, his circumstance at the race was similar to ours. He did not have the outcome he was expecting. He was already running very late to get home to his wife and child. He had a long drive ahead, and would unlikely make it home that evening, and his chances were fading by the minute. He too was angry and frustrated. He too was close to the boiling point. He too was just like us. Instead of fighting, my teammate offered to help him pack and get on the road.
This is not a tale of righteousness, nor is it a tale of triumph of reason. However, it is a tale of regression. Suppose we did fight. What possible benefit would that have for him or us? I believe there would be nothing but a waste of energy and capping a bad event, for us, with a worse event.
I now believe that aggression is regression on both sides of the equation.
Recently, I began thinking about this. Why? On Martin Luther King Day, I decided to listen to every speech that I could find of Dr. King. I listened to what he said about non-violent resistance. I listened closely as to WHY he believed that aggression ultimately dehumanizes both the oppressed and the oppressor.
Looking back on that event, I realized that every one of us makes decisions about how we treat each other. I am not comparing myself to Dr. King, or his struggle for equality. However, I now believe that every one of us has a choice in being violent.
I am not special. I do not have the answers to life’s questions. However, I do have a choice in being violent, or understanding, and prefer the latter.