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Chill - It Can Be Done

Updated: Oct 4, 2022

"I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out" Rodney Dangerfield, comedian

According to news and local sources available currently, on Friday night, in our little burg, three men in their twenties threw a beer bottle into the yard of Gustavo Urbina-Sotelo. Gustavo was a friend turned enemy. All had known each other for years. Gone to school together (the details of the story will probably continue to unfold).

Apparently, Gustavo’s brother saw the pitched bottle and alerted Gustavo who was inside his house. Gustavo grabbed a baseball bat and went on a chase alongside his brother. The night ended in a parking lot between the local Baptist church and bank, just a block from where Gustavo lived with his girlfriend and ten-month baby. Gustavo was shot multiple times and died in the ambulance. Jesus Torres-Lucatero is in custody (as is Jesus’s brother.)

It was a classic case of escalation. From an empty beer bottle, to a swinging bat, to a Glock 9 mm. Our reactivities to a perceived attack happen fast. We humans typically like to make sure our attackers get back what’s coming to them – only worse. Revenge feels fair, feels good, feels powerful on some primitive level.

This ancient urge for revenge is why the Law or Code of Hammurabi composed 1700 years BC by the Babylonians was a big step toward civilization. The Code you may remember from your Ancient Civ classes. The code seems aimed at guarding the rights of the weak, but scholars believe that the laws gave specific (often quite harsh punishments) redress in the form of an eye for an eye sort of thing.

An eye for an eye may sound awful, but this concept of fairness could stop escalation. It prevented a personal grievance from developing into village wars, lootings, ransacking, rapes, and from structures being burned to the ground.

These days we hope to do better than an eye for an eye. We hope to prevent people from becoming blind at all. If we want to prevent interpersonal conflict we have to learn how to deal with ourselves – with our reactivity to offense or attack.

And it can be done.

Take hockey. When I first saw our great-nephew, Sam, play hockey, I was shocked at the physicality of the game. People banging into each other, hitting each other when the referee was not looking. Sam even got his front teeth knocked out!

As I fan, I hoped Sam would kick the other team’s butt (yes, I got right into it), but I didn’t want to see him hurt. Sam assured me that he would never be one of those players in a fight. Never one of those who pulled off his gloves (signaling “let’s go at it”) to fight. It didn’t make sense for how he played the game, his role on the team - to score goals.

How could Sam avoid fighting? Hockey seemed to me like a sport where primal reactions are fast. Uncontrollable. But not for Sam. He could control how he responded. He did not just snap in reaction to another’s hits or even unfair behaviors.

I am not sure how Sam did then – actually still does it, but I know it can be done. That gives me hope for the world outside the arena. We have more control of ourselves than we realize. Should we want to accept it.

Recently, my husband and I had dinner out with a couple. The person who served us was a young woman. My husband commented on her good looks. Afterwards, one of our friends, the woman, said, “I can’t believe you did that!”

John was surprised. “What did I do?” he asked. The woman explained her irritation at John commenting on the young woman’s looks. John felt like the young woman seemed “low” – his comment was intended to affirm her.

Later, John and I debriefed the incident. I was impressed that John responded as well as he did to what he felt was an attack. The woman may have also felt she too was being indirectly affronted.

These may be considered an exceedingly minor engagement, but it took the rest of the evening to get centered as John acknowledged and soothed his own emotions and eventually was able to reflect on what the woman might have experienced in her own life – her fears, longings, aching wounds, and stifled gifts to lead her to react as she did. The story ends well. We have become even better, closer friends as we learn to live together as human beings.

The point is that we do hurt each other and get hurt. We want to lash out, make others’ feel our hurt. As one of my friends on this list often reminds me, “hurt people, hurt people.” Yes. Our hurts are real. We want to acknowledge them. Understand them. Heal them.

We do hurt others too. Sometimes intentionally. Often unintentionally. It’s part of being human. Our hurts can look angry, blaming, irritated, annoyed, OR sad, despondent, withdrawn. It’s that flight or fight thing we have built-in.

As we learn to work with ourselves, maybe we can learn to be more like Sam. I asked my husband how did Sam gave that chill, more adaptive response. He said something like, “Well, possibly he knew how he would hurt his team if he blew his cool.”

Maybe. I also knew Sam’s father had worked with him, even knocking him around a little bit in play, since he was a small child (preparing him for the bigger leagues) to not respond except in useful ways.

It can be done. We can learn to play in the adult league.

Yes, it probably takes much practice. Think of the training of the early civil rights activists in the sixties. They could resist spits, hits, and unthinkable degradations. Keep their eyes on their ultimate goal to be fully accepted as being human. Stay focused on Dr. King’s dream of becoming a beloved community.

It can be done.

We can learn not to react to our primitive urges. Talk ourselves down from escalating the fight or from running away. Acknowledge our feelings, understand others, keep moving toward better relationships and a beloved community. The alternative is not pretty.

How might we learn to positively work with our urges for revenge and journey to The Good Life?


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