It was like someone had pressed a very big red button marked "how dare you accuse me!" Alarm bells, steam hooters, emergency buzzers and fog horns were sounding in my head. I said back to him "yeah? any day!" Well I thought I had said it. In fact, right in his face, I had shouted it so fiercely, the teams playing field hockey on a nearby pitch heard me and stopped to watch the action. I didn't think to stop and analyse what would happen next. It involved my fist and his face.
Since then I've done plenty of other things that I'm not proud of, using self defence or self preservation or anything as an excuse. All of them if I'm honest, inglorious moments. Off the field, my mind and my mouth have had their fair share of inglorious moments too. I doubt if I'm alone.
I know its no excuse, and we try to rationalize it, but in adrenaline fueled scenarios, where we are challenged by tiredness, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually and events are moving at pace we can so easily:
- make a wrong assumption about the motivation behind an action
- retaliate if we are provoked - some people seem to know which big red button works
- feel aggrieved at a decision that goes against us
- feel falsely accused - oh boy do I know my rights
- feel manipulated, undermined or used
- totally lose all sense of objectivity
- seek out revenge - I "will" get my own back
- lose control and let a wild outburst or stupid action take over
Particularly as men, we can feel our competence or sense of masculinity has been challenged or questioned. Our judgement gets clouded and we become irrational and stop thinking clearly. Another classic response is to depersonalise or project blame away from ourselves. Our language becomes; "the" passage or play, "the" relationship, "the" bills, "the" marriage, "the" kids. The reality is it's my marriage, my relationship, my kid, my job and of course its my attitude. Actions have consequences - in a game, we can be sin binned, sent off or even reported to a citing commissioner. Off the field emotional wreckage hurts. Relationships can be damaged irreparably.
Being able to take an objective view and beginning to understand that my actions, attitudes and adrenaline fueled reactions have consequences is a good starting point to reducing the frequency of my inglorious moments. Over a long time of making mistakes, I have discovered that who I am privately tends to come out when I am under pressure. So, the more I work on the who I am and who I am becoming, when the pressure situation arises, my personal intensity and stress levels don't rise with it. Most of my inglorious moments have come when I haven't stopped to think. The reality is, even in the split second, we have a choice to make. Make no mistake, sometimes those choices are not easy to make, even though they are the right ones.
Rudyard Kipling put it this way "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too....then...you'll be a man my son". The bible has a succinct way of expressing the same thought "a prudent man gives thought to his steps" - in other words, before you start down a particular road - think about where its going to lead to. It isn't weakness to take a step back and disengage with the inclination to raise a voice or a fist. Sure there are times when someone with passion has to speak out against injustice, but here we are dealing with the destructive side of personal volatility.
There is an interesting contrast in the bible account of a mob that descended on the man's man Jesus. He had been falsely accused. He had been betrayed by someone close to him. When the mob approached him to take him down, Peter one of those with Jesus, pulled out a weapon and injured a man before he was stopped from causing further damage. Sudden uncontrolled rage. By contrast, Jesus simply said "I am the one your looking for". Peter's response to the mob was anger and the mob's response to him was the same. Jesus' response was calmness under pressure. The mob's response was to literally fall back - the sheer presence of this man, his personal strength of character and integrity produced a reaction in them. We know he was arrested and tried in what was humanities own inglorious moment. But the ultimate victory was his because he showed by the choices he made under immense pressure who he truly was. I know what my reaction to the mob would have been - inglorious. But now, I am finally learning that I have a choice. And as I make that choice, I am no less of a man. In fact I become more of a man.