Men Building Bridges #14
‘Whoever brings ruin on their family will inherit only wind,
and the fool will be servant to the wise.’
‘The fool who provokes his family to anger and resentment will finally have nothing left.’
‘Where there is strife, there is pride,
but wisdom is found in those who take advice.’
These powerful words, cut painfully deep to the quick. 15 years ago, after a decade of professional employment, full of youthful, justified, angry pride, I burned a bridge – and paid a heavy price. Working at a state university for many years, in following up on instructions by a senior manager I became a target for retaliation by even more senior managers and employees. I was stalked, harassed, bullied, threatened, and worse.
The situation was spread out over more than a year. A very senior, high level manager promised me: ‘I can make your life here so unpleasant, you will leave, even if it’s the last thing I do.’ I had respected this man. He was a retired, senior military officer now working at the same university as myself. Unfortunately, in a completely unanticipated way, in carrying out my assignment, per his own documented instructions, my work had revealed some highly questionable, unsanctioned unilateral activities by several managers & senior managers.
In my inexperience and youth, even though I had done nothing wrong, I had uncovered a mess. Everyone was trying to sweep it under the rug, except for the governing body of the entire division I worked in. This obviously meant all of the managers involved were called to account because of what my work had uncovered. It was a classic example of an administrative body versus its own governing body.
This left me in an extremely vulnerable, exposed professional position. The facts and documentation were irrefutable and on my side. So, with the pride of being right on my side, I did battle, won and in doing so, lost. I was stalked, threatened, harassed, and worse. One manager in particular, had a prior, extended history of aggressive, violent confrontations not only with co-workers but with students also. Finally, after more than a year of retaliation and nasty political battles, old scores were settled, all around. As the retaliation continued, from those who paid the price for their own failures and poor choices, I had enough.
I walked off of a protected civil service job, never to return. I burned a bridge in the worst possible way, exposing those truly responsible, left out of the official disciplinary actions. Some were forced into early retirement. Instead of working through the civil service commission, I had my satisfaction, or so I thought. The entire division was reorganized and placed under even more direct administrative control and oversight to prevent even more damage, others were eventually pushed out as even later, worse actions caught up with them, which I had nothing to do with, long after my departure. I had absolutely nothing to do with all of the later events. It was all their own doing and un-doing, not my arrogant, petty self-righteousness.
Throughout all, I had shared, but never consulted with, my then spouse. She was & still is, to my knowledge, a senior, respected HR director with decades of experience. In my pride, self-righteousness, and conceit, I never asked her advice. She did, to her credit, try to offer it. I didn’t listen. Quitting, walking off the job while getting even is a shameful, disgraceful way for any professional to leave, however temporary the satisfaction may feel. Doing so without talking it over with my then spouse, was inexcusable. Anything that affected me, obviously affected her, and I didn’t care. It was all about me. To my shame and failure, I had acted and reacted, disregarding her and our situation & goals completely.
We immediately felt the loss of my income. It took almost 9 months to find another job. It was a great job making more than I had anywhere else. It required horrific hours, travel and time away from my family. I had even beat out another former university employee for the position. I was despicable.
All of the events triggered a wedge & downslide into darkness and failure from which my marriage never recovered. I hadn’t respected my former spouse enough to include her on my plans, feelings, hurt, intentions or anything else in a complete, open and honest manner. I didn’t trust her experience, expertise, knowledge and wisdom. I was entirely reproachful and wrong. I lost the job which was so prestigious, with its access to corporate jets, influence and the captains of industry. The worst was to come.
I started my own business, trusting entirely in myself, which failed miserably. Undeterred, I started consulting, and so, consulted, and consulted. Until one day, with nothing and no one left, I turned to where I should have started, in the first place: inside. I had honored everything except within myself and my family and inherited the wind, losing everything. I had brought ruin upon myself and my marriage. I had become a fool and a slave to others. As a husband, leader, and worker the responsibility for all of those failures rests squarely on my own shoulders. We will reap what we sow – and I did.
I faced the worst in myself, that I had invited in, after tasting the kool-aid. Some of those I had gotten even with, whom I could track down, have forgiven me. Some were completely gracious saying ‘There’s nothing to forgive’, others refused to speak with me, but accepted my apology, saying nothing else. Some refused, never, ever, wanting to see or speak with me again.
We are called to swim with the sharks, not to become a shark: ‘Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’ We are called to be diplomats and peacemakers: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers…’ In going thermonuclear in retaliation, I not only destroyed my own reputation, but those of many other people. Something I will never, ever do again – to anyone, family, friend, co-worker: no one. The karma of that boomeranged for years. It was theirs, and not for me to interfere nor accelerate, nor magnify no matter how justified I may have felt.
Those who had meant the most to me, whom I had looked up to the most, welcomed me back, accepted my apology, and gladly forgave me. I have an employer, coworkers, and a company whom I trust and respect and whom trust & respect me in turn. I never thought I’d ever have even a chance at any of it, ever again.
If you are angry, full of pride, refusing to honor, include, and serve your families, your spouses, your children, your employees, your managers, your neighbors, your clients, your customers, or yourself by refusing to seek or apply advice, you will be left with nothing. ‘…provoke not others to wrath: but bring them up, in nurture…’
It’s time to apologize, humble yourself, let go of your pride and anger, no matter how justified you are or may feel and seek forgiveness. Make it right and build a bridge. Listen to and let those who love you, be honest with you. Don’t burn your bridges, you’ll have no way for others to reach you, and no one to blame but yourself. If you already have, be still, listen, to the divine, found in that still small voice deep inside. This is what we do. What bridges have you burned or are currently burning that are in need of repair?
Spirituality doesn’t make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
Fools who cause trouble in the family won’t inherit a thing. They will end up as slaves of someone with good sense.