Stress Test

Something happened a few days ago that has me worried.  I sort of maybe lost my temper a little bit.

Understand, I don’t lose my temper.  Too many years of management training.  You hear it in every seminar.  Everyone around you can lose their cool, but not you.  Someone has to be the calm and steady hand on the wheel.  Think Captain Kirk.  Think Atticus Finch.

Well, I’m a far cry from Atticus Finch, but I try.  My kids say they can tell when Dad’s irritated because I have a certain way of pursing my lips.  I could be known for worse things.

If you read this column occasionally you know I am not on the Democrats’ side and I am not on the Republicans’ side.  I’m on the side of reasoned and civil debate, and the decisions that flow from it.  I’m on the side of the ones who treat others with respect.  I’m on the side of those who believe in making the world a better place, and who understand that politics play only a small role in making that happen.

But a few days ago I had a conversation with a man I respect that didn’t go well.  I consider him a friend, and I’m pretty sure he’d say the same about me.

A topic came up that centered on a popularly perceived threat to one of our constitutionally guaranteed rights.  In some circles it’s an issue that gets people fired up.  Personally, I think it’s a non-issue, meaning that I think the perceived threats are probably just that—perceived, and that, as they say in Washington these days, there is no there there.

I expressed my opinion.  My friend paused and asked me a couple of questions to make sure he understood my viewpoint.  He was thoughtful and respectful.

But not me.   No, I knew better.  For some reason at that moment, the obvious rightness of my opinion seemed so sufficiently, blindingly evident that anyone who might appear to entertain a contrary, or even ambivalent, opinion was someone who just might not deserve my most respectful demeanor.

Don’t get me wrong.  Even in my irritation I still respected my friend, but I’m not sure I acted that way.  My voice rose a half step in tone and volume.  I may have actually cut him off once or twice.

He stayed calm.  Polite.  Asking carefully worded questions and then listening to my response.  In other words he acted as I should have been acting, and how, in my own self-image, I “always” act.

In the end, I sheepishly said something stupid like “well thanks for letting me vent,” but I left our discussion knowing that something was wrong and that it was my fault.  Looking back I could see that once or twice he had a nervous look in his eye, as if he might have to do some unexpected reconsideration of what kind of a guy I really am.

Perhaps he will—though I hope he doesn’t.   Actually, I’m the one who needs to do the reconsidering.

Sure, these are stressful times.   We all feel strongly about the events and arguments swirling around us.  But in my self-congratulatory way I thought I was the guy who could always keep his tone measured and his heart rate under control.  But there I was with steam leaking out of me, forcing me to realize that sometimes I might be just another one of those guys who can get fired up and act like a bit of a jerk.

This really disappoints me.

I owe my friend an apology and myself a resolve to do better.  No issue, hot-button or not, warrants abusing the friendship or love of the ones we hold close with rudeness or anger, no matter how mild.

Nor do our dearly-held opinions warrant a display of even the slightest disrespect toward anyone who doesn’t happen to agree with our own all-knowing, all-seeing, infallible world view.

Because whatever our age, education or life experience, none of us are as smart as we like to think we are.  There is always more to learn.  And humility, not arrogance, is the mark of a true man.

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