One evening last week, I asked a friend to make plans to come through on a favor he had gladly offered me in exchange for a favor to him. I sent the request by text message, since I know that is his preferred means of quick communication. Being that this request was for something seemingly easy for him, but important to me, I was shocked to receive his text in response, which blasted me for thinking of myself instead of his situation, and ended with “[expletive deleted] off!”
As a human being, my first reaction was to take offense, the “How dare he?” defense. Had I allowed my knee-jerk response to dominate my actions, I would have immediately sent a nasty text in return, saying something like, “I’ll remember this next time you ask me for a favor, jerk!” But I bit my thumbs and put my cell phone away, giving myself time to calm down and choose my response, instead of merely reacting.
I thought about my friend’s reaction, and my own, and turned the interaction over in my mind. I considered what I know of this friend–that he can be touchy, and often lashes out when under stress–and that he was facing a special challenge in the projected path of hurricane Irene. My thought was that he could have just ignored my text, or answered, “not now,” instead of being offensive.
I also considered the truth in what my friend said. Though his wording was offensive, at the core he was asking me to be more considerate, and I realized he was right; I had been caught up in my own challenges and needs, enough that I did not think much about his.
The following morning, I chose how I wanted to respond to my angry and offensive friend. I did not seek “an eye for an eye,” but turned my cheek. I decided to give him the compassion and understanding he needed, and to acknowledge the nugget of truth in his words. “You were right,” I texted back. “I should have been more considerate of your situation. I am sorry, and sorry I could not help. Let me know if you still need help,” I concluded, and waited to see how my friend would respond.
Not long after I sent that text, my friend replied, saying he was sorry, that it was not my fault, he had been very stressed, and “I still love ya.”
Sometime later it occurred to me that it takes a certain courage to turn the other cheek. It means having the courage to self-examine, to see the level of truth in another’s offensive words, to see the flaws in one’s own behavior, and to be the first to say “hey, I value you more than my need to be right.”