Many years ago I worked at a movie studio. My role was on the software development team of a technology division. There were good years and bad years at that job. One occasion worthy of study is the case of my direct manager, who turned hostile.
“Why aren’t you yelling back at me,” he screamed, visibly shaking.
Overall he was a descent fellow. He was friendly, kind and a cool guy. He took his team out to Hookah bars, showed us his cultural background and really seemed to care. However, one day he lost control and turned his rage onto me.
The situation was silly. I had taken two weeks off and spent most of it on a meditation quest, working on my own anger issues. I was really big into that at the time. When I returned to work, my manager walked over and started a conversation… I was immediately called into a meeting, so I cut the conversation short.
The next day, he came over and said very curtly, “come with me.” I followed him to his office. I was all a smile, but something was wrong. As soon as I walked into his office, he shut the door and barked, “sit down!”
At first I thought he was joking because this guy never raised his voice at anyone. Catching my smile he responded, “I’m not joking, now sit down.”
He began to berate me for behaving inappropriately. I had no idea what he was talking about. He said I disrespected him, and openly so. The more I protested that I had no idea what he was talking about, the more angry he got.
At one point he began to yell at me, putting me in my place. It felt like abuse. My first reaction was to get angry. Those weeks of meditation though, paid off. I actually felt a change in my muscle tension and blood pressure. Looking down at my right hand, I saw it was clenched.
“How odd,” I thought. My boss kept yelling, but it was now background noise. I was perplexed with how my body was reacting without my thoughts controlling it. Looking at my hand, I inwardly told myself, “no you won’t get angry.”
“An angry person is like a tiger in a cage.” That was something told to me from my Buddhist lama, at the time. Back then I was a Buddhist and that statement floated to my mind. Like a tiger in a cage, my boss really couldn’t hurt me. His words are like growls of a tiger. They sound frightening, but he’s inhibited from harming me. Instead of reacting, I began to study him.
I observed every moment. The change in his demeanor, the color of his face, the pulsating vein on his temple. His fists clenched.
“Well,” he screamed, “what do you have to say for yourself!”
“I’m not quite sure what to say,” my words cool and calm, “but I think there must be a misunderstanding. At no time did I attempt to disrespect you.”
More enraged he paced back and forth screaming that I had to know what I did to him. I just observed. He screamed so much he had no more screams left. Panting, he gasped, “why aren’t you yelling back?”
Why wasn’t I yelling back? What a funny question he asked. I explained, “why would I yell at you?”
“Because I’m yelling at you!”
“How do I know you’re yelling at me?” Spoken like a true Buddhist….
“What?! I’m telling you, I AM YELLING AT YOU, but you aren’t yelling back, why??!!!”
“My perceptions could be wrong. Perhaps I see you yelling, and I observe you are yelling, but is that what’s really happening? You and I are empty of being one thing or another, all I see and experience is the result of faulty perceptions based on my own past actions…” A dissertation of emptiness. He couldn’t grasp it. It was as absurd to him, as his screaming at me for no reason.
He calmed down. He explained that when he came over to talk to me, I had left the conversation curtly, to him this was a major disrespect. I told him it was a misunderstanding, that I had a call to visit his boss…
Later that day he apologized.
The moral of the story here is about present moment awareness. In the present moment, if you can grasp it and hold on, there is no need to lose control. Anger allows another person to control you, just like here…
Believe it or not, I was the one driving and controlling that conversation. It wasn’t the loud, angry, scary boss. He was a victim of me. In this case, I was kind. I didn’t manipulate him, I simply directed his flow to a calm resolution.