More than a year ago, I broke up a fight in the parking lot of my gym. In the process, I was forced to throw a punch of my own.
Since that day, I’ve seen both men at the gym from time to time, but none of us have ever acknowledged what happened. Like all men, we have simply pretended that it never happened.
As I was exiting the gym today, I saw the guy who I had punched approaching me from across the parking lot. It was still early in the morning, and the guy appeared to have just rolled out of bed. He looked worn out and bedraggled. Maybe even hung over. Unlike I have ever seen him before.
As he drew closer, I became nervous. I had no desire to get into an argument with him about our previous encounter, and it appeared as if he wanted to talk. Rather than heading in the direction of the gym entrance, he was veering off in my direction.
“Listen, I wanted to say I’m sorry about what happened last year,” he said as he drew close.
Wanting to end this conversation before it even got started, I played dumb even though we were standing less twenty feet from the spot where I had slugged him. “What? Last year?”
“Yeah, you know. The fight. I’m sorry about that. I don’t know. I just lost my mind that day.”
“Oh,” I said. “That. No problem. It happens to everyone.”
“No, it doesn’t,” the man said. “It’s shouldn’t have happened. But thanks for stopping it. Seriously.” Then he walked off.
I was shocked. He seemed genuinely disappointed with himself for what had happened. I had braced myself for what I thought would be an angry outburst, but instead, I had received an apology.
I was a good lesson for me. I think we sometimes fix images of people in our minds based upon single encounters or a single decision that the person has made, when in reality, people are far more complex and nuanced than we could ever imagine. For more than a year, I had labeled this man as an angry lunatic and never given any thought to the possibility that he could be anything else.
Yesterday I saw a level of sincerity, disappointment, contrition and maybe even shame that I would have never thought possible.
But why not? I had spent less than 30 seconds with the man, and that time had consisted of a single punch and a string of expletives. Hardly the stuff upon which one should determine a person’s character.
Slate’s John Dickerson is fond of saying that “the worst thing about you is not the most true thing.”
I agree. I guess I need to actually put this belief into practice.