Retaliation – Part I

During my commutes this week, I started to think pretty deeply about retaliation. What is it? Why do we do it? Why don’t we do something else instead?

You hurt me: I hurt you.
You insult me: I insult you.
You cut me off: I flip you off.
You hit me: I hit you.
You hit me harder: I hit you harder.

I do something stupid that negatively impacts you:
You do something deliberate to negatively impact me.

I don’t know when it is in our lives that we learn to retaliate. I really don’t want to believe that our parents teach that to us. I really don’t want to believe that we learn it in school. But somewhere, from someone, we learn this lightning quick reaction. We hurt back when we are hurt ourselves.

At some point in our lives, we used to say, or at least I like to think that we used to say, “Ow! That hurt.” And the other person used to say, or at least I like to think that the other person used to say, “I’m sorry. I won’t do that again.”

I can’t remember when that was.

But I so want it to be part of my life today.

Apologies – Choosing to Walk Down a Different Street.

I disagree with NCIS Special Agent Gibb’s Rule #6: “Never Apologize. It is a sign of weakness.”

I think apologizing is the most powerful act a human being can do for another human being. Of course, the caveat is that the person doing the apologizing needs to mean it.

I have witnessed three game changing apologies in my life.

The first was an apology to me. I was still struggling with PTSD from my journey with sexual harassment/retaliation. I rejected everyone because I did not trust them. On two different days, one of my colleagues left me two presents and didn’t leave a note. I freaked. I reported it and after asking me what I wanted to be done about it, my very supportive supervisor helped me explain my fear to my colleagues, anyone of whom could have been (in my perception) the one stalking me. I was in tears and shaking and really not at all comfortable being in that room or that vulnerable. The person, the friend, that was leaving me these gifts immediately and with complete honestly, owned his actions, explained them and apologized.

The whole thing took maybe 5 minutes but wow. My respect for him shot through the roof. By simply owning it whole-heartedly, he completely washed my fear away and, for where I was in my life, healed me a little bit. This event helped me to I realize just how traumatized I still was and that my heightened reaction, while explainable, was a symptom of my own emotional weakness.  I knew then I still had some internal work to do with me, and for me.

The second apology was between some of the men in my group. I was the only woman in the group at the time. My group was meeting with a new professor. And by new, I mean less than 2 or 3 weeks on campus. The professor was still getting to know the culture as well as the “rules.” The place and time of the meeting got mixed up. Half the class went to one room. The rest of the class went to the room where the professor was. After a while, the men in the wrong room started fuming. They blamed this newbie teacher for his mistake, for wasting their time. One of us suggested we try the other room. All the way there, the men were complaining about this mix-up and the negative impact on them. They were escalating in their anger and hate and clearly wanted to tell him off.

Then when we got to the right room, the professor immediately stopped what he was doing, turned toward us and said, “I’m sorry.” He went on to describe the negative impact his own newness had caused us and asked us if we could move on despite his mix up. The conflict de-escalated immediately. The alpha male had been identified and it wasn’t any of my classmates. It was the professor. The one who apologized. The one who, in a brief 30 seconds, showed empathy, heart, genuine ownership of his actions and helped us all realize in a kind and loving way just how petty we had been.

The third apology happened in a classroom in which I was the teacher and the pattern was the same. One person had caused emotional trauma for another person. This was followed by someone naming that trauma. This was followed by an open and honest apology that was accepted by the person that had been hurt.

All three Hurt + Naming the Hurt + Apologize for the Hurt events took less than 5 minutes, actually closer to 1 minute, but all three events were long lasting game changers for the rest of us. In all three cases, for the remainder of our group time together, we had an example of what it meant to be kind to one another. We had an example of how we should treat each other when we hurt one another.


It will happen. We will hurt each other. Sometimes the hurt is little. Sometimes the hurt is big. The real challenge to each one of us is whether we have the courage and safety to say “Ow. That hurt.” and the courage to say “I’m sorry.” And mean it.


Imagine, if we could do that for each other today, what our day would look like. What it would feel like. How peacefully we might sleep tonight.

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