I had the opportunity to interview David Pulsipher, author of When We Don’t See Eye to Eye and Professor at Brigham Young University–Idaho where he teaches the theories and history of conflict, peace, and nonviolence. We talked about “Confrontational Compassion,” which is a term he uses to describe the Savior’s counsel to “turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39).” Pulsipher explains that the Savior’s teaching to “love our enemy” to confront violence and aggression
“is anything but weak. It requires incredible courage to neither submit nor strike back but instead to meet malice with loving resistance…assertive love is not cowardly or weak. It is exactly the opposite because it does not surrender. It does not give in…Assertive love is resistance in its highest form.”
I asked him why he thought many people don’t trust that love can overcome anger and aggression. He said that the media does such an efficient job at promoting violence to deal with violence, that it distracts us from considering and seeing the power that love has to confront violence.
Wouldn’t it be great to flood the media with real-life examples of those who have overcome anger and aggression with love?
Many years ago as I was starting my career as a school principal at the ripe old age of 27, the school superintendent took me to the elementary school where I was to be the principal and introduced me to my new faculty of 18 women teachers and 1 man teacher. I think the women teachers were shocked at my young age but at least in the meeting they were polite to me. However, the male teacher, Al, was not at all polite, he merely gave me a cold icy stare and refused to even shake my hand.
After we had left the meeting and had gotten into the superintendent’s car, I said to him, “What was Al’s problem?” He replied, “Al is old enough to be your father. He has been at this school over 20 years waiting for the previous principal to retire or die so he could get his job. Need I say more.” He continued, “Al doesn’t have a problem, you have a problem, it’s Al. Good luck.”
Time proved the superintendent correct. I did have a very difficult problem. Al obviously hated me. I had taken his job and it seemed that no matter what I did to be his friend, he threw up a roadblock to stop it. I really felt that someday we were going to have a major confrontation which I wanted to avoid if at all possible. I prayed that I might be wise and Christ-like in my dealings with Al. I knew all of the faculty knew I was a Latter Day Saint and a bishop and I didn’t want to do anything that would reflect negatively on the church and I sincerely wanted to be the kind of person the Savior would have me be. This problem with Al caused me to have nightmares. I remember one night I dreamed we were having a faculty meeting and Al and I got into a fight and were rolling around on the floor while the lady teachers all stood around screaming.
Fortunately that dream never came true but the confrontation did come. Toward the end of the school year it was time for teacher evaluation. It was my job as principal to evaluate each of the teachers. In each category I had to rate the teachers with one of three options. The highest option was “Above District Standards, middle option was “Meets District Standards” and the lowest category was Below District Standards. No one, of course, wanted to be evaluated “Below District Standards” but I had agonized over one category for Al. He was constantly in confrontations with all of the other teachers. He couldn’t get along with others and I’m sure that is one of the reasons why he was not made the principal.
The wording in the evaluation category I had struggled over said “Rate this individuals ability to relate well with fellow teachers.” To rate Al at any level but Below District Standards would have been a lie so I bit the bullet and rated him accordingly. When he came into my office and I handed him his evaluation sheet and he spotted the check mark in “Below District Standards” that lit the fuse and the explosion began.
He stood over me and began to shout obscenities. By the way, I need to tell you he had been a Navy Captain and his language reflected his acquaintance with obscene language. He began by attacking the University I attended, BYU-Provo, my church, my family, my youthful age, my philosophy of teaching, etc. etc. etc. To be honest with you, I was amazed at how much he knew about me. For about 15 minutes he screamed every filthy, negative and cutting remark about everything he thought would be hurtful to me. I’m sure he had rehearsed in his mind that speech for months and had waited for the right time to launch it. Then he just stopped and the room was silent. For one thing, I think he was exhausted from screaming at the top of his voice for so long and for another thing, I think he now wanted me to give a response so he could give his rebuttal to whatever I might fire back at him.
I have to confess that there were many things that went through my mind that I would have liked to say in response, but none of them would have been appropriate in light of my knowledge of Matthew chapter 5:38-48. So for about two minutes I sat silently saying a mental prayer that I would be guided to give the appropriate response.
Finally I broke the long silence, and in a very quiet voice I said, “Al, “whatever I have done to you to make you hate me so badly, I apologize to you for offending you. I am very sorry. But I want you to know something, I love you as my brother and I would like to be your friend.” Then I said nothing more. The room was very quiet. I think Al was ready for almost any response I might have given except for “I’m sorry if I have offended you, I love you, and I want to be your friend.”
We sat in silence for a few minutes and then Al did something I wasn’t prepared for. He began to cry. He finally gained his composure and said these few words. “No one has ever told me they loved me in my entire life. Not even my mother or father,” and with that he left the room.
In the months that followed Al and I became good friends and when I left that school to take another assignment, Al came up to me, put his arms around me and began to cry. Finally he said, “I don’t want you to leave, you are the best friend I have ever had.”