Growing up I had an attitude and a big mouth that got me in trouble. I was never open to critique and my home life was often filled with verbal abuse, which caused major respect and authority issues. Enough so that an obscene gesture ended up getting me kicked out of high school.
I still remember the day it happened. I was in my high school math class. My teacher was an older woman at the end of her career who was probably annoyed that she had to deal with mouthy high school students on a day-to-day basis. On this particular day, my No. 2 pencil had gotten dull and I needed to finish an assignment (I still have no idea why everyone is required to only use a No. 2 pencil). So I raised my hand and waited to be noticed, but my teacher was deep in a novel while my hand grew achingly tired. So I made a small grunt to move her attention from the novel, which worked.
“Yes Jake?” she sighed.
“May I sharpen my pencil?”
She quickly nodded and I got out of my seat, walked to the other side of the classroom to the pencil sharpener nailed to the wall and began sharpening my No. 2. I’m not sure if this has ever happened to you but the more I sharpened my pencil the smaller it got. The lead kept breaking off and I had to continue to sharpen over and over again. I started to get frustrated as this was the only pencil I had left to finish my assignment.
Disgruntled and frustrated I finally yelled out, “Your sharpener is eating up my pencil!” The rest of the class could hear the irritation in my voice and all eyes went towards my teacher to hear how she would respond. She quickly matched my tone and irritation by subtly smiling and saying, “It’s because you have to have the special touch, Jake…”
The entire classroom burst out laughing and my face immediately flushed red-hot. As a teenage boy I felt my masculinity had been questioned and felt any honor I had left quickly stripped away. It didn’t help that it happened in front of my high school crush either! So I knew I had to come back with something witty, suave, and utterly inappropriate.
With my decision made I quickly responded, “Oh yea? I’ll show you my special touch!” Just as the words “special touch” left my lips my right hand left the handle on the pencil sharpener, down past my belt buckle, and found it’s way straight to my crotch. Yup…I did it. I grabbed my crotch and lifted it up at her as if to tell her to “suck it”.
I thought everyone was going to be laughing, but instead there was a cold silence in the room as every student stared slack-jawed. They couldn’t believe I had gone that far. That simple gesture landed me in the principal’s office and a trip to Alternative academy where all the troublemakers go.
I’d like to say I learned my lesson that day, but in life I often react before taking the time to think and respond. I tend to let my emotions get ahold of me and end up making irrational decisions that cost me dearly.
In fact, my bad attitude and quick mouth almost got me a colossal beat down by five Marines before I learned to tame my tongue.
During a college party in downtown Columbia one evening I ended up getting fairly drunk. It was your typical college party and looking around the room I spotted a lot of “meat heads” and preppy girls. I was an aspiring musician in the metal scene so I didn’t quite fit the “college party” mold. While I scanned the room people-watching, I happened to see a rather large guy with a buzz cut run his hand from a girls thigh up to her breast, completely grabbing her out of the blue. I could see the agitation in her face and how appalled she was, so I pushed my friend aside and ran up to the guy, told him to back off and to “Go F**K yourself!”
He stood and simply laughed at me and then turned to his four friends behind him, motioning to me. Turns out he and his buddies were Marines that got off base for the weekend looking for a little “fun”. Which probably meant meeting girls and beating some punk kid’s face in (namely mine).
Things quickly escalated and he began to taunt me to “do something about it.” Being in my intoxicated state of mind, I started heading towards him only to have my friends rush in and quickly point out “A) This is a horrible idea. B) They’re Marines. And C) You’re scrawny as hell!” I chose to ignore them and kept running my mouth about how he inappropriately groped a girl and how pissed off I was.
Thankfully my friends tossed me in a room away from the Marines and broke up what could have been the end of my life.
Think Before You Explode
In each of those scenarios, I was quite to react, before ever thinking about how I should respond.
I think each of us can point to a time in our life where we’ve made some poor decisions and quickly reacted. Maybe it was a big argument with a friend where you said things you regretted. Maybe you even threw a friend under the bus out of frustration. It could be an altercation with a boss that got you fired or a coach where your mouth got you kicked off the team. In most cases, we’re trying to defend our sense of what’s right or wrong, but for some reason it always turns out to be a bomb that blows up in our face. We need to take time before we take action. We need to learn to respond instead of react.
Take Time to Take Everything In
Before you react, take the time you need to take in all that happened. In a lot of cases we don’t have to respond as quickly as we do. We can take a moment, breathe, and let our minds adjust to the reality of the situation.
With my teacher I could have taken the hit and acted in humility, gone back to my seat, given myself a moment to decompress, and then be able to think straight about what really happened. She was offended that I ran my mouth for attention and disrupted her class. I was upset because she made a sly comment to me in front of the class. I could have easily waited until after class and sat down with her to discuss why I was upset, apologized, and maybe she would have apologized to the class the next day for what she had said.
Perhaps with the Marines I could of had inserted myself into a conversation with them and have a buddy of mine take the girl further away from them. I could have calmly explained that I have utmost respect for the Marines, but I know that his action wasn’t within their code of honor.
It’s important for each of us to find a way to get out of the battle before pulling the trigger. That could mean walking away when you have a confrontation with a friend. It could be going on a walk when you get bad news in order to sort your emotions and feelings. It could be standing up for yourself and communicating that you will have a calm and respectful conversation with someone, but you will not let them speak to you in a derogatory manner or with an aggressive tone.[clickToTweet tweet=”It’s important for each of us to find a way to get out of the battle before pulling the trigger.” quote=”It’s important for each of us to find a way to get out of the battle before pulling the trigger.”]
You have control. You have it if you want it. Often times we can get too wrapped up in our feelings or emotions (whether they’re good or bad) and end up making a situation worse.
So next time a hard situation arises and you start to have your feelings boiling up inside, take time to take everything in, and then respond.