Regret Lesson #1: People Do, In Fact, Have Feelings

by Christopher Paul on November 21, 2006

When I was in high school – or maybe jr high – I ran on the track team. I was a sprinter and ran the 100 and 200 meter dash occasionally filling in for a 400 meter relay spot and the long jump. It was the first (and only) sport I played because I don’t count the half season of freshman football I played. It was the only sport I enjoyed and the only one that didn’t require hand-to-eye coordination (something I lacked with my bad vision). I didn’t enjoy the practices so much and didn’t apply myself as I wish I had (another regret but not one that I feel compelled to write too much about). And as a young kid who was different and somewhat of a loner it still was hard to get a long with some people on the team. One person in particular was very difficult to get a long with and I often found myself at odds with him. But the conflict I shared spilled over to an innocent bystander and she got hurt and it was my fault. And that, I regret and wish I had the chance to apologize for my reckless behavior.

I remember the day pretty clearly. The sun was shining and it was cool for the late spring. I recall thinking I needed sunglasses as I waited in line to attempt a practice run for the long jump. The idea was for everyone to line up and jump for our measurements and, when done, go to the back of the line to begin again but giving someone else a chance to make a run. We had to share the ramp with the girls team that day and there was an unusually longer line than normal. It wasn’t a big deal really, but one that made getting through practice harder than normal. My day wasn’t going well, I remember, and I was already in a foul mood.

Then comes along a guy on my team who I didn’t like much at all. He was disruptive in class, an arrogant ass (if you ask me), a bully who used fists disguised as insults and name-calling. His name was Uzi (yes, like the gun) and was trying to cut in line. Being in no mood to allow him to walk over me (much as he had done in the past), I argued with him.

It wasn’t a loud shouting match; I wasn’t that type a person. The whole confrontation was just a bunch of light pushing and shoving to assert one’s presence in the line; who ever won the challenge would get to go before the other. In hindsight, it was really petty and not worth my energy. But as a kid who got bullied, it was more than just a place in line. It was for all those who got cut in front of and I didn’t want to let the line cutters win this time. And I probably would have won this one eventually if I hadn’t done the thing I regret.

Behind Uzi and I, was a girl (I think) named Megan. She was one grade below the one that Uzi and I uncomfortably shared. I remember her as being pretty, popular, smart, and confident – a far cry from what I was at that age. And although I didn’t know her as well as I should have, I wrongly judged her thinking that all the pretty, popular, etc. people were stuck-up, rude, and self-absorbed.

In the midsts of this petty struggle that I was involved with, I remember her trying to break up the argument in a way that girls often do – by asking us not to be so childish. I recall her words and insistence in the background and found it frustrating; I knew what I was doing and realized how absurd it was to fight over a place in line but that’s not what I was thinking in response to her, well, meddling. I was really doing battle with both of them – Uzi with the place in line and Megan with the interference into my altercation with the line cutter. I couldn’t deal with her (what I felt at the time) nagging and lost control. In an act of anger, I abruptly disengaged from my shoving with my original opponent, quickly turned around and faced Megan, and said words I swore to never use:

“Shut the fuck up! Bitch!”

It wasn’t the work “fuck” or “bitch” that was the problem – I’ve used them before and will again. But it was the tone and sentiment behind them that made them more powerful than I had ever thought possible and the very moment those words left my mouth, I knew I had made a mistake.

Immediately, Uzi burst out laughing at her and said some off remark about how I dissed her or something stupid like that; it was not a consequence I was proud of for I became the bully that I disliked in Uzi. I felt like him and I was just like him for that moment and I was shocked I became that way. What’s worse is that I hurt her feelings and although she didn’t cry or anything like that, it looked as if she would at any moment – like I had broken her spirit, crushed her hopes, and decimated her self esteem; the look in her eyes wide in saddened disbelief is something I will never, never, never forget and it is that act of momentary hatred that resulted in her hurt feelings that I regret.

I have not forgiven myself for it, either.

I’m sure she got over it, though. She seemed upset for the rest of the day – understandably – and even gave me dirty looks for a day or two (all justified) but she did go on with her life. We never became friends but did interact a few times as we both progressed through the school system; I think I even apologized for my rudeness which she, if I did atone for my sins, brushed off as unnecessary because it was such a non-event in the scheme of the world. Other observations didn’t make me feel that her life was altered in any way because of my insults; she seemed to keep great friends, didn’t suffer from low self esteem, and still kept excellent grades all while remaining popular and being well liked.

Although she didn’t seem to suffer from my tirade, I did. I lost respect for myself and regretted putting her through that hurt even if it was just but a moment in what I hope is a long and happy life. Even though I haven’t forgiven myself for inflicting that pain, I learned a valuable lesson that day. I learned that people’s feelings are fragile and they can easily – and accidentally – be broken in an instant if the right care isn’t taken. And that above all else, I should always strive to be a gentleman and never let my frustrations get the better of me. Its not easy, mind you, and I’ve acted out of frustration again (many of us do) but not with the same forcefulness. I do my best to be mindful of other people’s feelings and think about what I’m about to say before I say it.

It’s the only way I’ll be able to forgive myself… someday.

Previous post:

Next post: