On turning the other cheek

In the scriptures we are admonished, “but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt. 5: 39)

I’m all for turning the other cheek, however the admonition fails to take into account the situational nature for turning the other cheek.

Lunch at Costco

Last Friday my wife picked me up at work so we could eat lunch together as a family. My three-year old son and three-month old daughter were in the back seat as we drove to our chosen destination–Costco!

The parking lot at Costco is always busy and finding a parking spot can be difficult. Of course, my wife has parking karma and immediately found a spot in front of the store. While she was waiting for the other driver to vacate the spot she located, the driver of an SUV started backing up directly toward the side of our car.

My wife honked the horn to warn the other driver of the impending collision, but he kept backing out. I told my wife to move to the left and keep on driving forward. I immediately turned my head and glared at the brazen driver of the SUV. When my wife was safely in the parking space, I quickly exited the car and waited for the driver of the SUV to pass me.

He rolled down his window, posturing as best he could, and asked gruffly, “Do you have a problem?”

My reply was swift and thunderous.

“Yeah, I have a problem with your driving. You need to watch how you drive when other cars are behind you.”

The other driver gave me a scowl and then drove away.

“Merry Christmas,” I said sardonically as I waved good bye.

My wife looked at me disapprovingly, while I simply smiled and said, “He was just being a jerk.”

In this situation, the driver of the SUV shouldn’t have backed out with my wife directly behind him. Of course, I should have handled the situation differently, but I wasn’t in the mood to turn the other cheek.

Shopping for a Christmas tree

Later that night my wife and I ventured out again with our kids in tow, looking for a Christmas tree. We stopped at the local Home Depot and picked out the first tree we looked at.

The tree–a fine specimen of Noble Fir– was the perfect fit for our living room and didn’t need extensive trimming. We paid for it and then went to bring the car over to load it up and take it home.

As I started making my turn onto the driveway in front of the store, a full-size pick-up truck came barreling at my car going ~40 mph. The road had been clear when I looked previously, but was now menaced by a hot-headed speed demon.

My wife reached over and went directly for the horn. Her attempts to honk the horn failed, so I dutifully sounded the horn at the offending driver.

After I had exited my car to pick-up my tree, the driver of the truck turned around to confront me. Both he and his passenger exited and came toward me, cursing at me and making threatening gestures toward me.

I quickly surveyed my surroundings, noting the presence of the driver of the truck who looked like he wanted to kill me. To my left stood two Home Depot employees who looked like they were ready to jump in if needed. That was slightly comforting, only because I knew I’d probably be sore and possibly bloodied if they did need to jump in.

My attention turned quickly to my wife and children who waited for me in the car. For a split second I considered responding to the taunting of the boisterous and rude driver and passenger, but thinking of my wife and children and the fight that would likely ensue if I opened my mouth (and listening to the Spirit this time), I instead stood still and said nothing.

The crowd of people in the lot spoke for me, chastising the men for being bullies and overly rude. As a parting shot, my wife looked over at the men (I use that word loosely) and said, “Are you happy now?” Of course, their reply cannot be written here. :-)

Justice (by proxy) is served, finally!

Saturday morning as I worked my shift as a police volunteer, a call of road rage in progress came out over the radio. I listened intently to the details of the call, hoping that an officer was nearby. As luck would have it, a lieutenant was 30 seconds away from the melee.

Apparently the driver of an older-model pick-up truck was using his vehicle as a battering ram against the driver of a passenger car for some perceived offense. I can only imagine how panicked the driver of the car must have been as her vehicle was rammed by the other driver.

I’m not sure if the lieutenant took the driver of the pick-up truck out of the car at gunpoint–I would have–but the violence ended as quickly as it started.

As I reviewed the notes of the road rage call on my mobile data terminal in my patrol car, I saw that the driver of the truck had bench warrants out for his arrest. In the end, the driver of the truck was arrested for the warrants AND the road rage incident. Justice is served!

Q&A: Turning the other cheek

After returning home on Saturday, I did a search on LDS.org about turning the other cheek. I found this short article in the New Era that made for good reading after my cheek turning incidents.

In the situations I faced at Costco and Home Depot, I’m curious to know how you would have handled the situation. What would you have done differently? What do you think of the Q&A in the New Era on turning the other cheek?

22 thoughts on “On turning the other cheek

  1. 1. Practically speaking: Being provocative like you were in the first example works perfectly fine for some people. For others it’s akin to suicide. When you mentioned you were a police volunteer I went, “Ahhhhhhhhhh…I get it now…” because picturing you as a senior citizen (sorry, don’t know ya) just wasn’t making things add up. As a police volunteer you are fitting an image. Careful that it doesn’t become “who you are.”

    2. Spiritually speaking: People can get really hung up on this “I’m defending myself and I have every right” stuff. What the world *really* needs isn’t more people who stick up for themselves. That part is easy. The world needs more examples of charity, love, and courtesy. As far as getting your point across goes, more people need to learn the art of persuasion. I mean, you’ve always got the provocation as a backup if you absolutely need it, right? In the meantime why not learn how to get your point across in the most effective, least confrontational way possible? Too often self-education gets ignored when we let our “riveted creeds” tell us how to behave (D&C 123:7).

    Thanks for sharing your thought-provoking article and your self-honesty.

  2. Kevin,

    Great advice, thank you for sharing.

    I try not to let what I do as a volunteer dictate who I am and how I act. The first incident was a ‘natural’ reaction to bad driving and bad behavior, albeit with some bad behavior of my own.

    I used to carry a concealed weapon with me everywhere I went. I actually had an occasion where I had to threaten the use of deadly force when someone threatened my life with deadly force. While my actions in defending myself were appropriate as it relates to the law and justifiable use (or to threaten the use) of deadly force, I was shaken by what almost happened. Again, it was an incident in a parking lot, on Christmas eve no less, where someone felt he had been wronged by something that happened on the roadway. Thankfully the individual involved chose to back down from his threats almost immediately.

    Another volunteer asked me if I showed my police credentials in either incident from last week. I replied- no. I choose not to pull those out unless I am interacting with a police officer and need to identify myself. I almost called 911 to have the two people arrested for disorderly conduct, but I didn’t want to have to have ongoing interaction with the two via court hearings, etc. I figured they had made sufficient fools of themselves by their actions that night.

  3. Brian, I have learned through sad experience that there is no other way to deal with out-of-control and crazy drivers than to just do everything possible, and I mean everything, to avoid confrontation. In Miami, many crazy drivers are armed, so this is partially a self-defense mechanism. But the reality is that I just feel bad when I fight back, especially in front of my kids. And I have a long, long history of fighting back. Only you know whether you “turned the other cheek” sufficiently in this case — I can’t put myself in your shoes. But my rule is: don’t fight back, don’t have a confrontation, ignore the other idiot driver, hope he goes away, if you have any interaction make it a pleasant one where you apologize. That is the only rule that works for me after decades of fighting back.

  4. A lot of my reaction depends on the mood I’m in. I’ve tried very hard to overcome my “ten feet tall and bulletproof” attitude and attempt to get along with people. One thing that I do is I imagine what I would do if my best friend was driving the car that almost hit me. I would know she didn’t do it on purpose. If I approach these situations with humor and good nature, I can usually diffuse the feelings in myself and others. It’s not easy. But it’s do-able. My first instinct is to blow away the other driver.

  5. Brian, from my point of view, your wife was being the inconsiderate driver at the Costco, making the SUV driver wait unecessarily. She was scanning like a hawk to get what she wanted, but she failed to notice the SUV driver who wanted out, and selfishly inconvenienced him for her convenience.

    While she and you had the right to wait on the driver to vacate your desired spot, you had no right to force others to wait on you by blocking their exit. Moreover, he had no reason to be scanning other parked cars to figure out _why_ you were blocking him.

    Unless I see their white reverse lights on, I _never_ wait on someone to vacate a desired parking spot; I always go for spots that are currently vacant, not “just about to be” vacant. Unloading groceries and buckeling the kids in just takes too long. Plus you never know if the driver who is “about to leave” is going to talk on their cell phone for a while before actually leaving. Therefore, you don’t know they are actually going to leave until you see their reverse lights on. I think the SUV driver had legitmate reason to be ticked at you and your wife for blocking him and wasting his time.

    I would have assumed that the SUV driver did see you, and he was not trying to run into you. He was just letting you know he wanted out, and from his point of view, you were inconsiderately blocking him and wasting his time.

    You should have been the one to apologize first, for blocking him, and explained that either 1) you didn’t notice his reverse lights on, or 2) you needed a close-in parking spot due to the small children, and were waiting for one to be vacated.

    Moreover, if your wife had backed up or pulled ahead, you could have let the SUV driver leave, and then taken his spot anyway.

    Another reason why you should not have been upset at the SUV driver, is the “no harm, no foul” rule. He did not actually hit your car. If you think he didn’t see you as he was backing up, the most you should have said was a respectful “be more careful next time”.

    In your second scenario at the Home Depot, you don’t give enough details as to what happened to give clues as to _why_ the truck driver thought he had the right to be offended. Did you cut him off? Did he have to slam on the brakes?

    The bottom line of the two scenarios is that you’re not putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes. You’re not trying to see it from their side, whether they be right or wrong, or whether they have a legitimate beef.

    To understand _why_ someone feels/believes the way they do is not equivalent to giving in or to granting they were in the right. I’m not asking you to give in or be a wimp or let people walk over you. But when you can acknowledge (by your words and attitude) that the other person had some kind of cause, or at least a perception, that led to them feeling wronged, that will often diffuse the situation.

    Sometimes, being the better person means apologizing for our errors, or even our _perceived_ errors. Being the better person also means apologizing for our (perceived) errors even when the other guy doesn’t apologize for his.

  6. While one has to turn the cheek one also has to let others know when they have done wrong. It’s a balancing act in how to do this (especially when you are angry). It reminds me of that aphorism (albeit in a different context) “be bold but not overbearing.”

  7. Gandhi:

    There is … in pure love no giving and no taking. Put in another way there is no giving on earth without taking. Love gives because it must; it is its nature. It therefore does not calculate whether there is a corresponding gain. It is unconscious of the giving and more so of the taking. Love is its own reward. When there is that ineffable love, there is a joy which is above all the so-called joys we think we experience from out-ward circumstances. It is the joy I want you to possess.

    How might you have responded if, when you looked in the offending vehicle, you had seen your mother or President Hinckley? The answer to that question might lead you to a response that could have precipitated something other than anger in a confrontation.

    I offer that thought in mind of another Gandhi statement, which I can’t find on the web right now. One day a man came up to Gandhi and said something to the effect of, “I want you to know that I have succeeded in following your instruction. The other day a man came up to me and insulted me and humiliated me in public, but nonetheless, I said nothing in response and did not hit him, though I wanted to.” Gandhi responded with something to the effect of, “That is terrible. If the only way to avoid being humiliated was to hit him, you should have hit him. But the bigger problem is that you should not have felt humiliated in the first place.”

    Perhaps a way to approach your question is this: how would you have responded in each of the incidents if, instead of a male stranger, you had seen your mother or President Hinckley? How might such a different response have affected the others’ actual responses to you?

    The question I ask myself in conflict situations is this: how would I respond if the person I’m addressing were someone I loved deeply? That doesn’t always mean no confrontation, but it tends to change my responses from instinctually hostile to something else, and something possibly a lot more interesting and creative.

  8. Ok, I feel a story coming on. One time, I was in the parking lot and got in my car while I noticed the gentleman next to us sitting in his car just as I was opening the door of my car. I sat down in my car, thinking nothing of it, and he got out of his car and started screaming at me, stating I had hit his car with my car door.

    I said to him “Sir, you popped your trunk.”

    He staired at me for a moment, went around the back of the car, noticed he had in fact popped his trunk and that had in fact caused the noise whih had fueled his rage.

    I think that was one of the greatest moments of satisfaction in my life.

    Another story, them I’m out.

    Over 8 years ago, A friend of mine was in a great hurry to get from Provo to SLC a few years back, and the car in front of him, a lincoln, was going about 40 mph on the highway, and causing my associate no end of trouble, as he honked angrily and finally was able to get in the passing lane, as he drove up, ready to demonstrate an obscene jesture at the other driver, he noted that he recognized the man, which immediately caused him to slam on his breaks and find the nearest off ramp.

    The man was James E. Faust.

  9. Comments # 7 and #8 are among the best I have read on the Bloggernacle in a long time. Thanks to both of you.

  10. Annegb: I’m going to hire you as my personal driver and bodyguard. I could use someone 10ft tall and invincible! :-)

    Bookslinger: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on my incidents.

    Greenfrog, Matt W.: Like Geoff said, great comments. I enjoyed reading them.

  11. I believe the doctrine Christ was teaching when he asked us to turn the other cheek is simply that of love. Love your enemy. The difficult question is how to love your enemy while defending your family. I remember a guy getting angry at my dad in front of both our families at an amusement park and how my dad responded without escalating the situation. He didn’t appear weak, but he let the guy back down without hurting his pride.

    I believe Cooperation Theory is responsible for much of the progress of the western world. When we stop expending so much energy on fighting with each other our civilization makes great strides forward. Most of the problems in the Middle-East stem from their unquenchable desire for revenge. Every percieved wrong must be repaid with interest initiating a new cycle of violence and instability.

    I’m not suggesting you were seeking revenge Brian, but in the first situation it seems you wanted to address how you had been wronged. When you indicated you had once had to threaten deadly force I assume you were not willing to end someone’s life only to appear strong or because you were in the right.

  12. Oh, I thought of a funny story, but first I want to say one of my worst nightmares is accidentally flipping off a general authority. But why was he only driving 40? That’s not only annoying, it’s dangerous on the freeway.

    There was a little old lady who lived in our ward, she was in her 80′s and driving down the highway. Somebody had been impersonating police officers and raping women at the time. She was going really slow and a Highway Patrol officer flashed his lights at her to stop and find out why and she got scared and she floored it and took off. I can’t remember how they got her to stop, but they chased her awhile. It’s sad because she was really scared, but also funny to think of the policemens reaction when they finally stopped the criminal they were chasing.

  13. Clark wrote:

    “While one has to turn the cheek one also has to let others know when they have done wrong.”

    I disagree. One does not _have to_ let others know when they have done wrong. Many reasons why are in Proverbs. I believe that there are more times when it is better to keep one’s mouth shut and shrug off the other person’s “wrongness,” than there are times when it would be appropriate to educate, correct, or call the other to repentance.

  14. Well, to the degree that one doesn’t have to do anything. However I think it better for society if people know when they are violating our society’s standards.

    But obviously one has to choose ones battles. There always is the danger of road rage. You never know if the guy your yelling at (not that I think one ever needs to yell) may be a ‘roid enraged reject or a guy who recently had a psychotic break. In general though I think we can state our concerns while being polite about it.

    I should add that I’m horrible about this. I’m much more the “blow it off” sort who avoids such confrontations as just not being worth the hassle. But my conscious (or my wife) often pricks me about such matters.

  15. From http://scriptures.lds.org/en/prov/9/7-9#7

    7 He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame: and he that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot.
    8 Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.
    9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.

    Of course, me being a wise man, I invite polite and gentle correction from those who observe my errors. ;-)

    There’s also a saying, “Never try to teach a pig to sing. You waste your time and you annoy the pig.” * 1973 Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love (ISBN 0739419447) http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Pigs

    Oink.

  16. A man I know was awakened in the wee hours by a neighbor complaining about the barking dog keeping her awake. She ranted, raved, threatened, used all sorts of unprintable language. The man simply said ok and hung up.

    The next morning, same time, the man called the neighbor woman. When she awoke and answered the phone, he simply said: “Lady, I don’t have a dog.”

  17. When I ride my bicycle in New York, I am quite sure that many of the people driving near me want to kill me. It’s not just that they are careless. They really would like to run over me and my bike and send us both to the morgue.

    Which makes me (1) defensive and (2) careful, usually and (3) ready to lash out at them for the slightest infraction.

    Sometimes I remember to let my naturally thoughtful and courteous self come to the fore. Other times I remember that if they get mad enough at me, they’ll win. In car vs. bike, the car always wins. And the cyclist always loses.

  18. Mark:

    Your bicycle comment reminded me of a funny accident (no-serious injuries) involving a UPS truck and a bicycle, which further proves your point about cars (or trucks) winning against a bicycle.

    The cyclist was driving against the flow of traffic, when he was hit by a UPS driver exiting a private drive. When I arrived on-scene, the rider of the bike was ranting about being hit by the UPS truck and vowed a huge lawsuit against UPS.

    After I had sufficiently calmed the cyclist down and got an account of what had happened from both parties, the motor officer pulled me aside and said the rider of the bicycle would be cited for riding against the flow of traffic and nothing would happen to the driver of the UPS truck.

    The rider was furious when he found out he would be cited, and the UPS driver was extremely relieved. He (the cyclist) was informed that the driver of the UPS truck was responsible only to ensure that oncoming traffic was clear, and that no pedestrian traffic was in his way and that a vehicle and/or bicycle proceeding against the flow of traffic was NOT something for which the driver of the UPS truck was responsible.

    I still get a laugh when I think about this poor cyclist thinking he had “hit the jackpot” after being hit by a UPS truck. I’m sure the ticket was humbling and hopefully he learned a valuable lesson about the rules of the road and safe cycling. What can Brown do for you?

  19. Re: #19

    The UPS driver was probably relieved for multiple reasons. Chief being as a UPS driver if you get in any preventable accident, then your employment as a UPS driver is over!

  20. One the of the Zone Leaders in my mission had had one to many run-ins with Japanese taxi cab drivers. After a while, he started carrying a small black cap gun revolver in his pocket. After getting honked at angrily by the cab driver, he’d whip out the cap gun and unload while watching the panicked cab driver duck.

    And yes, he was a very numbers/results-focused missionary. Most ZLs were. One of my primary goals as a missionary was to keep them from getting anywhere near my investigators.

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