In this day and age many people seem to have their trigger finger poised and waiting to retaliate to anything that could be construed as offensive. There seems to be less and less tolerance, and more and more focus on fighting every little battle, even when it’s only a figment of someone’s imagination.
I have a book titled “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”. In small type under the title reads another line “And it’s all small stuff”.
This story is about a situation that was somewhat more than small stuff, but it gave me a perspective that I had struggled with for many years. It was a hard lesson to learn.
I’d opened my own advertising business. It was going well. We soon had plenty of work, so I needed new staff to process it. Life was looking good.
I employed someone who came highly recommended. Within six months of this person starting he approached me about equity in my company. Being frantically busy and a bit of a procrastinator, I said I would think about it. Two weeks went by and I was approached for an answer. I had none. Let me explain.
This company was like a child to me. I’d put my heart and soul, and a lot of my savings, into starting it. To be asked to gift a part of it up to a relative stranger was confronting, especially as I’d just forked out a fair amount of money, investing in special equipment for this person’s use.
How much did he want? Fifty percent!
I knew I wasn’t prepared to do that, but a small share was worth my consideration. After all, he had promised to bring in a significant amount of new work and clients. This all sounded good, but it was only speculation.
Another two weeks went by and I was questioned again. This time I explained that my solicitor was due to advise me soon, but hadn’t yet. In all the business of building my business, this was not a priority on my list of things to do.
Another month went by and I returned from a meeting to find my staff in turmoil. They were traumatised! In the hours I’d been out at meetings, this employee had backed up a truck, loaded up all the new equipment, plus all the furniture in his office, and left.
We had no idea where he’d gone, but within a week, we had disturbing phone calls from several clients. They were asking if we were still in business, because this ex-employee had contacted them, indicating that he’d taken over my business and all correspondence should now be addressed to him.
My blood boiled. I was furious.
This not only made me angry, but also anxious. What if they accepted his offer to do their work? Where would this leave me? And what about my staff? This question was what had traumatised them.
The next few weeks were a blur, because I went from working a stead sixty hours a week to a frantic eighty hours. This was my attempt to smooth the feathers of my staff who were still in shock. It was also to provide a service to our clients that would reassure them of our viability as a reliable service provider.
I took on this burden without hesitation, but in hindsight the stress levels were immense. Unhealthy. I was leaving home early and returning late at night. More often than not, my dinner was left in the oven. I would eat alone while the family slept soundly.
Spending a lot of time alone can stimulate the imagination to head in all sorts of unnecessary directions. I had vivid visions of hurling a brick through this reprobate’s window in the middle of the dark night, slashing his car tyres so that he had no means of transportation and generally wishing the worst for him. Disease, misfortune, lighting strikes, you name it.
These were all thoughts that flashed through my mind in the hours after midnight, when my family snored and my vengeful thoughts roared.
All that was achieved by this was to raise my own blood pressure and cause me, a person who is a naturally gifted sleeper, to have restless nights when all I could think about was how to reek revenge.
One of those nights, when I’d returned home and was sitting down to a dried-up and dreary dinner, I flicked on the TV. It was a moment of chance, perhaps, but it was so significant that it changed everything almost immediately.
Clive James, with his slightly sarcastic smile, was in the process of introducing his next guest.
(I have to add a disclaimer here: this was close to thirty years ago, so what I remember is what I remember, and may vary somewhat from the reality. I have tried to research the episode but cannot find it to verify this story.)
As I recall, the guest was described as a formidable individual, who had been entered into the Guinness Book of Records for two accomplishments. One was the greatest number of consecutive push ups ever recorded, and the other was the greatest number of consecutive sit ups. I was impressed as I sat there and listened. The credentials went on. This guest had apparently achieved black belts in several martial arts and now ran one of the largest security firms in the world.
Mr James than made a comment to the effect that this was a formidable person, one you wouldn’t want to bump into in a dark alley.
The image then cut to a shot in the USA. It was of a medium-sized man sitting on a bar stool. He was a suntanned man with a shiny, shaved head. He looked the picture of good health. But he didn’t look all that imposing. He was no super athlete or over-muscled gym freak as far as I could see.
This man’s first words were to dispute the comment about dark alleys. He said that all his training and martial arts were nothing to do with assertiveness or aggression. In fact, what he proceeded to say was, I felt sure, meant specifically for me to hear.
Gordon Liddy, of Watergate notoriety, went on to explain that, as a young man, he’d spent several months in a wildlife reserve in Kenya. The experience of this time had such an effect on him that he almost decided to become a ranger.
While watching the great herds of antelope migrating, he was fascinated to see that the predators, such as lions, hyenas and cheetahs, were always on the outside and their predicament was more precarious than any of the antelope. He was intrigued, after much observation, to realise that the antelope, be they wildebeest, impala or any of the other deer, for the most part, behaved like family and community, relying on one another in a cooperative, collective manner. They helped each other survive.
The predators, on the other hand, needed to be far more self-centred in order to prevail. They fought over food, family and territory.
Liddy’s conclusion, even as a young man, I thought was profound. He realised that this was not unlike human behaviour. Some of us are predators and some are not. He needed to decide whether he was a predator or a herd animal.
My recollection is that he decided he was definitely not a predator. Having come to that conclusion, he realised that the herd animals who survived were the fastest and fittest. The ones most vulnerable were those who were slow, sick or small. That was his motivation for spending so much time ensuring that he fitted that fast and fit category.
I sat there spellbound, because I realised that in the metaphor, I’d been set the same question. What was I?
It’s a question we should all ask ourselves, because to have confusion about which category you’re in, makes for a life of anxiety and internal conflict.
I’d been attacked by a predator. What was the appropriate response? That depended on the category I saw myself in. It didn’t take more than a moment for me to choose. Like Liddy, and perhaps that’s the only similarity between us, I was not a predator and I knew it.
This was not for any altruistic or ‘good guy reason’. It was purely and simply because I did not, except for some mad moments on the sports field, like to fight. Every time I had was a bad experience.
Relating this to the circumstances I was in at the time, I realised that revenge and retaliation were not part of my nature. A deer does not plot the downfall of some hungry lion. He plots and plans to fight another day.
With this realisation, a massive relief came over me. It was a weight being lifted. As a ‘herd animal’ I needed to just go about the business of looking after my family and making the most of what lay ahead of me.
I went to bed that night and slept soundly.
Six months later, we appeared in court about the equipment that had been stolen from me, which was the next time I saw the ex-employee. Without meaning to sound smug, I noted with interest that he could not, or would not, look me in the eye, even though he was the predator and I was only the herd animal.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere.