By John Lee Pendall
So, here’s my first contribution during Right Speech week for the Living the 8 challenge. I won’t be posting a journal article each day because most days just aren’t that eventful in my life. However, feel free to check out the FB group for more interactions.
“I said stop hollering at me! You don’t have any authority over me. Who do you think you are?” That was me chastising a co-worker. This was actually yesterday—so, I guess Day 0—-but, I’m throwing it in here anyway and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. Ya know what, just for you:
“I said stop hollering at me! You don’t have any authority over me. Who do you think you are?” That was me chastising a co-worker. I had the restrooms closed off by this feeble, sliding cage thing. For some strange reason, said cage also closes off the drinking fountain. First, my co-worker started shaking the screen like a chimp on blow. “I’m in here,” I informed the visitor while reaching my gloved hand into a used tampon container.
A few minutes later he bellowed, “Open this thing up! I need a drink of water!”
“It’s closed, dude,”
“Open it up right now! I’m not walking all the way to the front!”
He did something only a handful of people can do: he was pissing me off. Typically, only inanimate objects can piss me off. When they do, I have a habit of destroying them. I’ve thrown many things across the rooms—it’s a family tradition (unlike my mom, I don’t typically throw things at people though).
I hardly ever get into verbal altercations with fellow associates. There’s a lot of dukkha around the workplace, and dukkha is one of the few things I truly understand. I don’t really get people, but I do get suffering. That tends to help me cut people a lot of slack. But, I just can’t stand getting yelled at. I grew up in a loud household full of hostility and “high expressed emotion.” That’s psychobabble for, “Your family members are a bunch of assholes.” Whoops, think I committed Wrong Speech just now. I was also bullied a lot at school. Short, chubby, quiet, blind kid? I practically made the Kick Me sign myself.
Uh, so, yeah I have a high aversion to shouting; especially if someone is shouting orders at me. I have to have an astonishingly high amount of respect for you, or we’d have to be extremely intimately involved, for me to tolerate you screaming demands at me. I don’t snarl often, but when I do, I choose my words carefully to evoke the greatest sting. This is a survival tactic I picked up in grade school that helped ward off the bullies.
I chose those words because my co-worker used to be a foreman at, I don’t know, some fuckin’ company; now he’s a stocker at the Death Star (my nickname for the retail giant that’s slowly killing me).
He’s used to being obeyed and respected when he barks. He’s used to having power over others. So, I figured him being somewhat forced to come to the Death Star for work probably mortally injured his pride—so I aimed for that soft spot. My words weren’t spontaneous; I pondered all of this for a few seconds before saying them. “How can I hurt him?”
I thought as I walked through the bathroom toward his bellowing baritone. How can I make him think twice before trying to push me around again? I unlocked the gate, and he walked up to the drinking fountain, uttering a few more irritable slights beforehand.
Then, I tossed out those words, and they had a hard landing. He paused, his impatience deflated and I saw the lingering pain of a sad little boy rising unmasked to the surface of his 67-year-old face. He took a drink of water and walked away. I didn’t feel bad, that’s the worst part. I felt proud of myself for not taking shit from some jerk off. Instead of the event rolling off of me, I carried it with me back to the stainless steel stalls I was polishing. Instead of feeling relieved, I just kept getting angrier as I replayed the event (and other run-ins I’ve had with him) in my mind. Angrier and angrier. My mind wandering, the polish smeared.
After awhile, my thoughts turned toward another co-worker; one I’m quite fond of. She’d taken the night off, and I found that I really missed her, that the place was dismal as hell without her in it. I noticed my mood shifting, brightening as I thought about her. It’s amazing, isn’t it? How just the thought of someone you—um, care about—can brighten your day.
Honestly, I haven’t felt this way about anyone for several years. It takes quite awhile for me to have romantic feelings for a woman, and even longer to feel, ya know, other stirrings. Well over a year of seeing her four days each week, in fact. It’s alright if it doesn’t amount to anything, or if she doesn’t feel the same way; I’m enjoying the resurgence of my messy humanity.
The struggle between wanting to speak and wanting to remain silent; between wanting to hold onto someone and not wanting to scare them off by holding too tight. I hate it so much, and I love it dearly.
My mood lifted; I replayed the event again and felt remorse. Sure, he was being unskillful, but he doesn’t know any better. He doesn’t know about conditioning, about how even the simplest of actions can afflict us or set us free. I do know better. Since I know, that means I’m 100% responsible for my words and actions; that means I have to live by a code.
We saw each other at the end of the night, burdening ourselves in winter gear as we prepared to walk through your typical Illinoisan February tundra.
“Listen, John. I’m sorry for how I acted,” he apologized.
“No worries man, I’m sorry for being reactive.”
“I’ve got this hernia that’s bugging me, and it can turn me into a real asshole.”
“That sucks, dude. Have you seen a doctor?”
“Yeah, I’m having surgery on it later this month.”
“Fuckin’ A, man. In the meantime, things are gonna be pretty rough, I bet. Hope the days fly by for ya.”
“Thanks, John. See ya tomorrow.”
Lesson One: You’re human, that means you’re going to fuck up. When you do, own up to it.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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Feel free to check out his Facebook page, his blog "Salty Dharma", and/or his non-Buddhist poetry at "The Writer's Block."
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