Sunday, May 29, 2011

Revenge with impunity stalks our culture

|A story in the Report on Business in the Globe and Mail, Saturday, May 28, 2011 pointed to a conference of HR professionals in London. One subject, company security of information, and its potential leakage, demonstrated that, because these people have all the encryption codes for all of the programs on all of the people and files of the company, the greatest danger to most companies, in terms of security breaches, comes from INSIDE, through acts of revenge.
This caught my eye because it is revenge that, from my limited observation, provokes much of the world's conflict. Let's start with something simply like a minor hockey game where the young boys are enjoying an hour of friendly competition on the ice. One boy(A), now tired from an extra long shift on the ice, sees that the competitor he is supposed to be defending against(B), has the puck and has already broken out ahead of his defender. A knows he won't catch up, so he firmly plants his stick through the blade of his opponent or between his opponent's legs and gives a healthy tug. Down goes the puck-carrier, but as he falls he notices a painful twinge in his shoulder from the awkward way he landed. The "tripper" (A) goes off for a penalty, if the referee sees it; however, the next time the two are on the ice at the same time, (B) wants to let (a) know that what happened on the previous shift still hurts. So, (B) now the new aggressor, "to pay back" (A) for his trip, rides him into the boards head first, and sees him slump to the ice in a heap. Now (B) takes a penalty for boarding, perhaps even for a hit to the head. And the conflict has begun.
Or take a more domestic example, with two siblings whose servings of a favourite dish are different in size. Both like the steaks they have been served, but one notices his brother has a bigger steak. So when brother (C) leaves the table for a moment, brother (D) slices a strip of steak from C's steak, as a way of making it even. Of course, C notices immediately when he returns and cries foul. C then begins his plan for revenge, so that B knows "he can't get away with that."
And, what is far worse, is that our society endorses the "pay back" at a very elemental level of learning. We believe, wrongly, that pay back demonstrates true grit, and true courage and true "masculinity" or at least,"we don't have to worry about him/her taking care of him/herself in the real world" when we see the "payback" or the active avenging in early years.
We teach, by example, by our words and by our attitudes, that revenge makes you "safer" from another trip, or trick, because the original perpetrator knows you are "strong" enough to fight back. On the other hand, the young person who merely walks away, hurt, sad and dejected, is considered a "wimp" or even "girlie" because he doesn't fight back.
I once had to intervene to break a fight between two grade eight boys, in the school yard at lunchtime. One was unconscious, having been kicked in the head by the other. After attending to the unconscious boy, I recieved a phone call from his father, "If you don't clean up that school, I'm coming down there with a shotgun to clean it up for you." Realizing there was a potential for real violence, I took the matter to the police, for both advice and for their intervention. Together we worked out a plan that each week, for the balance of the school year, both boys would appear at the police station at 3.30 on Friday afternoon, to report on their behviour during the previous week. That was a significant step to making peace between the two, who eventually became friends.
However, when the policeman visited the home of the perpetrator (he was the one who kicked the other into unconsciousness) to investigate the home conditions, he found a similar culture. There were in the room the father, a younger son, and the perprtrator. The younger son continually interrupted the conversation between the policeman and the father, to the point that the father stood and swatted him across the face with a loud, "Shut-up!" When the police told me the story of his visit, his only comment, "We were after the wrong person; it was the dad we should have been investigating.
Knowing more than I would like about physical abuse, (as victim) in a dysfunctional family where father was, or at least considered himself, impotent to confront his partner's violence against their children, I found myself, in grade ten, in a conflict with a classmate, over the sharing of a textbook. He wanted to share with the girl, a friend of mine, who sat between us, and I had been given the task of distributing the texts to the class. Naturally, with only one left, I shared with my friend. After class, jealous and angry, the other boy threatened to "get even". After school, he was waiting from me at the front of the school. Of course, I had books in my arms and he drove me into the school fence, where he started pounding me, as a large crowd gathered. My only comment was, "Let's go settle this in the office of the school!" (Naive perhaps, but I was not into encouraging or participating in more violence; I had more than my share at home.)
Of course, the other boy was given some punishment, probably a detention or two, because the principal actually came out to break up the fight. However, and this is the part of the story that really amazes me.
Some fifteen years later, after graduating with a Master's degree, when I asked that same principal for a reference letter to a doctoral program in education, at the University of Ottawa, he wrote, "This candidate is not emotionally capable of a doctoral program!"
Just how vindictive will someone be, when the reference is thought to be "confidential"? On another occasion, when I requested a letter of reference from another high school principal, for whom I had toiled with distinction for fifteen years, because of his insecurity and jealousy, he also "threw me under the bus" to get even. And these acts of confidential references, of course, carry no penalty. They are carried out with impunity, and the pattern continues to plague people in authority in every organization, including the church.
The legal system may investigate serious crimes, while all around us, little crimes of hate and revenge based on jealousy are occurring every day. Headlines come from bullets, or stabbings, and yet, what lead up to those life-ending final acts never makes it into the public story.
It says here that, if any organization is going to address the problem of revenge, based on jealousy especially, although there are undoubtedly more motives than jealousy, it is the church that needs to address the issue.
Participating in any adjudication of any conflict requires the critical examination of motive of all parties, including the motives of the adjudicator(s).
When the greatest danger of leaked or captured confidential information comes from "within" an organization, we know that we have a lot of work to do to damp down our elevating the "pay back" principle in minor hockey, or in school conflict, or in domestic disputes.
As Iago reminds us in "Othello":

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;

It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss,
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger:
But O, what damnèd minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!

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