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In All Honesty

“Let go of hate, you fool.
No one ever hated their way to the top, to their dreams, to their mountain, or their kingdom.
You will end up rubble in an empire that never existed.”
            -TP Williams

In my various lifetimes spent as a teacher, coach, dean, athletic director, and assistant principal, there have been occasions where people have been perturbed by my actions, and at times, my mere existence.  All of that is a fancy way of saying my vocations have put me in positions to really tick people off.

If you rank the anger I’ve aroused in people like you do chicken wing sauce, I’ve experienced the scale from mild (student miffed that I make them take out an earbud) on through garlic parmesan (parent upset that I wouldn’t let them serve a detention at home [yes, this actually happened]) all the way up to hot (oftentimes stemming from conversations about the legal definition of self-defense).  

But there was a parent named Shantel who reached the ghost pepper, (have to sign a waiver before you eat the sauce level); a level of visceral hatred that I have not encountered since.

As luck would have it, Shantel’s daughter was the kind of student that ensured I would be speaking to her mother on a very regular basis.  She walked through her days with an almost visible halo of drama; she would continually get in arguments and had an aversion to responsibility for her actions that rivals the most potent cases I’ve dealt with.

As difficult as dealing with her daughter sometimes was, it was nothing in comparison to parent notification.  Phone calls to Shantel reporting on her daughter’s malfeasance turned into the type of conversations which would happen between the pope and the most vocal guest in the history of Jerry Springer.  The few words I was able to get in only seemed to make things worse, and I learned to listen, say “That’s not true” and “I don’t agree with that assessment,” and eventually she would flame out and hang up, usually telling me that she would see to it that I was fired before we spoke again.  This never happened; indeed, after inquiry I discovered she never contacted my higher ups; she just wanted to unload on me.

Events came to pass that necessitated Shantel to come to the school to pick up her daughter.  For all the time we had spent on the phone, we had never knowingly set eyes on each other.  When I was called up to the office to meet her, I was confronted by a tall woman with beautiful, long grey hair; but her eyes revealed that she was exactly the person who had been screaming at me for months.  They bored into what seemed like my very soul, and by her expression, they found my soul lacking.

My uncle Jim, who is a priest, told me once that nothing is more powerful than honest words; I figured I needed all the power I could muster in this little discussion, so I just laid it out to her.

I told Shantel that I was very happy to finally meet her and that I enjoyed having her daughter in our school, although I didn’t approve of some of her actions, one of which caused her to be there today.  Then I told her that I sensed that there was a lot of trouble at home, that she and her daughter probably battled a lot, and that it must be amazingly refreshing to be able to get on her daughter’s side against a common enemy (me).  Seeing as she bore an uncanny resemblance to the character Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings series, I half expected her to cast some sort of spell on me, but she didn’t.  She looked at me with a tilted head, and I thought I sensed a little bit of softening in her gaze.  We certainly weren’t friends, but we were able to have a matter of fact conversation about what her daughter had done and why she was receiving this consequence.  She left that day and didn’t even mention anything about me getting fired.

I made a follow up call to Shantel in a few days to share some information, and the call was, amazingly, very cordial.  When we were wrapping up, she did say she was upset with me.  “I’m angry because after talking to you, I don’t hate you anymore.  And man, it felt so good to hate you.”

My grandmother once told me that politicians lie for one reason: It works.  When I think of Shantel being upset that she no longer hated me, it just points out how easy, indeed, how addictive, it is to succumb to the lowest common denominator of human emotion, hate and negativity.  

We’re really all like water in that we instinctively search for the easiest path, and nothing is easier than negativity and hate.  

It’s hard to believe in good things.  It’s hard to be hopeful.  It’s often hard to do the right thing.  But it is in those moments, in those situations, in staring down times when it would be easy to fall into the trap of hatred and negativity and you don’t, that you grow.  And in that growth lies fulfilment, true happiness, and the method to make yourself stronger.  

Not that there won’t be some bitter pills you have to swallow; like lies, negativity works.  But I’ve learned that negativity usually lacks what my Uncle Jim taught me was so powerful; negativity is almost never honest.  Negativity and hatred are what you pull out when you don’t have the power of truth on your side.

Thank you to all of you for continuing to demonstrate so much strength; unlike my early arguments with Shantel, fighting to rise above and to meet hate with honesty and caring is a fight well worth having.

“Let go of hate, you fool.
No one ever hated their way to the top, to their dreams, to their mountain, or their kingdom.
You will end up rubble in an empire that never existed.”
            -TP Williams

 

 


WRITTEN BY Rief Gilg