“How you judge me and who I am are two entirely different things.”

~Jaws IV

Somewhere in the neighborhood of… God, fifteen years ago, I got a text.

“Hey… why are Farva and Aaron shitting on you online?”

It was my friend Will, giving me a heads up. If I remember correctly, it was somewhere around 2am, and I wasn’t online at the moment. But, given that text, I popped on to MySpace (remember that site?) and scoured a group we were all in together.

It didn’t take me long to find the conversation; the two mentioned were indeed going back and forth sharing things about me they didn’t appreciate.

Like anyone would be, I was annoyed. I quickly started to type up a, “Hey, fuck both of you” response…

…but then I paused.

I read the thread again, and noticed I didn’t really care what the two numbskulls were saying. Their insults, interpretations, and opinions didn’t define me, it exposed them. Instead of responding, I logged back off and closed my laptop. I shot Will a “Thanks for looking out for me” text—because I appreciated him having my back—and went to bed.

When I woke up several hours later and logged on again, the conversation had been buried by other discussions. I was able to go about my day (and life) not having been sucked into their nonsense.

I had forgotten all about that until several recent events.

One: the discovery of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

My kiddos love the show. An animated spinoff of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the series examines emotions. Kids are taught that their feelings are OK, and guides them through appropriate and inappropriate expressions of said emotions.

For instance, when dealing with anger, kids are taught how to calm themselves down a bit before reacting in anger: “When you feel so mad you want to roar… take a deep breath, and count to four.”

Basically, it’s OK to be angry, but you should pause and not just lash out when your blood is up.

While it’s great kids are learning such lessons, as an adult, the show actually serves as an important tune up to my own shortcomings. Adults can be as hot headed (or more so) than kids, and we can all use reminders that our emotions are OK, but that we shouldn’t be slaves to them.

Which leads to…

Two, my profession: stand-up comedy.

While on stage, I talk of my humbling and incredible experience of getting to perform for American troops stationed in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

This goes over well with audiences 99.9% of the time. It’s a sure-fire bit.

I open that segment of my act with the line, “So, in my career I’ve been lucky enough to visit U.S. soldiers stationed far from home…”

Two weeks ago, that sentence elicited the most odd of responses.

Before I could get into my story, “Have YOU ever served?” was sneered at me from the second row.

I quickly explained that I hadn’t, throwing myself under the bus in the process.

“Nope,” I said. “Never served. I’m too big a pussy.”

The audience laughed; the man did not.

“If you’ve never served, then what right do you have to talk about the troops?” he yelled.

I explained that I wasn’t going to disparage or make fun of the troops; I was going to tell a fish-out-of water story. Me, a civilian/comedian among those sacrificing for our country.

He bellowed something else, and the next thing I knew the security was by him, asking the man to leave. He did so, but he did not go gentle into that good night. No, he raised a stink, shouting and threatening to kick the bouncer’s ass the whole way out the door.

After the show every person at his table apologized for his behavior.

Alcohol was obviously involved in that situation, but booze aside, the larger issue I have is the idea of “trigger words.” The truth is: you never know what is going to set someone off. When people hear their specific “trigger word,” maybe instead of getting angry, defensive, or panicked… sit back and see where the speaker is going with things.

(Take a deep breath… and count to four.)

If more adults were trained to take a moment before reacting, we’d all be better off. Also, just because that man was drunk doesn’t mean adults don’t overreact in general.

Hence, example three: email.

I received a message from someone unhappy with me.  It wasn’t the best-written message, meaning the reasons why the person was upset were unclear. In fact, part of me wondered if the sender was confusing me with someone else.

I sat on the email for an hour, digested the content, and then responded in a manner I believed thoughtful.

A few minutes later, a reply to my response appeared. It was angry, and more incoherent than the initial message.

Once more I read, I waited, and then wrote, edited, and responded.

The pattern repeated itself again. Where I had used measured response time, another email quickly appeared in my inbox.  It was even angrier, and now contradictory.

Originally, I was a bad person because of “Reason A.” I explained that I hadn’t actually done what I was accused of in “Reason A,” and suddenly “Reason B” was the reason I was a bad person. No apology for the confusion, no “there must have been a misunderstanding, my bad,” just a quick pivot and another reason to justify their anger toward me.

In part, I felt like Jordan Peele in their hilarious text sketch. Except I was acutely aware of what was happening, and attempting to both diffuse and understand the situation. It was as if the person was waiting for me to respond, just so they could fire back without even having read my point of view. They weren’t “counting to four,” they were hammering away in true keyboard-warrior fashion.

I asked for clarification regarding the new reason for their anger, and received silence. Hours, and then days passed without a reply. I realized I wasn’t going to receive an explanation for the outburst, and I definitely wasn’t getting an apology.

Sometimes, when cornered, people will not admit mistake; they will just go silent.

I didn’t reach out again; there seemed no point in doing so.

In a way, it made me realize that I keep learning the same life lessons over and over, this one being emotion always trumps logic. You can be reasonable, but if the other person has their blood up, they won’t respond. People will feel how they want to feel, and you can either concede to them, or walk away with your head held high.

The point is: I’m glad I became a father.

I might not be the target demographic for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean I can’t absorb some of the show’s lessons.

Hopefully those lessons will help my kiddos be better people than I ever was.

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