Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Slippery Slope of Retaliation

The Slippery Slope of Retaliation
By Brenda Black

I'm feeling better about walking away from an arrogant computer salesman since reading about a disgruntled airline steward who stomped out of the room with a far greater fit. Though I'm not sure I condone JetBlue Fight Attendant Steven Slater's libation or swearing, or his dramatic exit down the emergency slide, I certainly agree that courtesy is a lost art. And there comes a time when enough is enough of being treated like a door mat. What's our way out if not down an airplane chute?

He experienced meltdown following an altercation with a rude passenger. I came close after listening to a pompous, pushy store clerk repeatedly treat me like an infant and elevate himself to superiority. Everything in me wanted to give the oversized, but under-mannered toad a swift kick in the rear, but instead I just told him I didn't appreciate his tactics and would be doing business elsewhere. Then I walked. I think he thought I was bluffing, but discovered differently when he stepped out the front doors of his famous office supply store and scanned the city parking lot. I stayed my course and pulled away. He lost a sale, but I kept my cool -- thankfully, so that I didn't end up in the headlines the next day.

I wish I could say that I've never caved to the rude and slid down the slippery slope of retaliation as Slater did. Life would be grand if I could claim a perfect record for patience when people really rubbed me the wrong way. The reality is I've lost it more times than I care to recall, but I always regret that feeling of being out-of-control and rue the things said or done in anger.

The difference between rude indifference, retaliation and regret might best be defined by the testimony of an out-of-towner. I met this woman last weekend, one day after my computer confrontation. She was a transplant to the Midwest from Maryland. We visited briefly and she volunteered her cultural assessment of the Heartland. “People are so friendly here. Back home we're not. We're just rude.” What a sad claim to fame, but what a transparent confession. Maybe she didn't even know what courtesy was until she saw it in action.

By and large, I think folks around our parts are pretty good natured. When we meet a car, it's country protocol for an index finger or whole-hand wave, whether traveling black tops or gravel roads. I always acknowledge a farmer when he cautiously maneuvers a massive piece of farm equipment just off the shoulder then waves me around, first checking for oncoming traffic from his bird's eye perspective. Our banks still offer suckers and bubble gum to kids in the drive through. And how about those Wal-mart Greeters! People, for the most part, know what nice looks like around here.

But do we practice hospitality in public on a regular basis? Do we offer courtesy when we're in a hurry? Are we patient and kind even when someone treats us like dirt? Those are the times when courtesy counts most. While melting in the heated fury of the offender, are we able to walk away and not fall prey to anger?

“A fool gives way to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” (Proverbs 29:11) It may at the very least cost Slater $25,000 to fix the deployment chute on the plane, $2,500 to post bail and who knows how much more to fight his pending battle in court. That's a high price for losing your temper. Yet a higher price is paid when we disregard what's right in the sight of God.

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Courtesy counts. The way you treat another may lead them down a slippery slope of unrighteous behavior. Self-control pays off. When you are the offended, take my advice – walk away and don't turn back.

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