The high school senior athlete quickly stood, turned toward me like he was ready to fight, and said, "F*** you, b****!" A friend of his reached around him to hold him back.
We were somewhere in the middle of class and I had asked him, in a particularly rude way, to be quiet and pay attention - then came his outburst. So I asked him to go hang with his class dean and tell him what happened. After class ended, I went to the dean's office to talk.
The student had calmed down by the time I got there. Before he or the dean could say anything, the student and I made eye contact and I apologized to him for being rude and disrespectful to him. I felt disrespected by his behavior in class, and I reacted impulsively using mean language. I was committed to not acting that way with anyone.
He then authentically apologized to me for what he said, and though he seemed a little apprehensive, he was back to his usual, pleasant self. We then chatted about how both of us could benefit from not reacting impulsively to emotions.
That kid was on drugs, the hormones of adolescence, and I knew he was responding to the drugs and not to me. All adolescents are on drugs; it's a transformative time in our lives when our body chemistry is notoriously wacky. What I said in class triggered this student's anger and it flared nearly full tilt. No his reaction wasn't appropriate, but much better for it to happen in school than on a job or in an otherwise dangerous situation.
Adults are on drugs too. We've also got brain chemicals and hormones doing funky things to us, and our emotions can flare or fester as well as any teen's. While the flaring of emotions can lead to obvious impacts, the festering of emotions is probably not any better.
As I reflect on the story above from my third or fourth year teaching, I'm aware of three insights:
Other people, all of them, are on drugs. Remembering this can give us a little room to stay calm whether in an argument with our spouse, in a situation with our kids or siblings, or within a school building. After all, they're not responding to you, they're responding to the drugs.
Taking responsibility for any situation continues to be the easiest way for me to experience agency, peace of mind, and vitality.
To some it looks weak to apologize, especially to apologize first. However, I've found time and again that taking responsibility first gives the other person space to take responsibility too. Defenses are softened when the other side apologizes, and from that softening comes more room to reflect and find our own agency in any situation.
I hope you have a great week! ❤️
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