Dignity and Courage
I don’t know why it means so much to me that the guy who broke into my laundry room apologized as he was being taken to the police car by the SFPD, but that moment keeps replaying itself in my mind. I don’t know if he meant it, but he said it like he meant it. If he was trying to con me, it was a subtle play. He didn’t say, «I’m sorry. Please don’t press charges.» It was a complete sentence, a declaration: «I’m sorry.» Even if he was pushing my buttons, he played it like he wasn’t.
One of the officers said that meth users only know how to do two things: lie and steal. I’ve seen a bit of that myself, but usually methheads are playing the short con, not a long one. Whether he meant it or not, his words signified an admission that he was in the wrong, and that’s what people are supposed to do when they are wrong.
It also takes the blame off of me for what I did to him, but I’m not so codependent that I feel any guilt for inconveniencing the guy who was in my laundry room without my permission with a trip to the police station. That’s significant only because it was a dignified response and assumed that I looked at him as someone with basic human dignity.
I may be flattering myself to think so, but I’d like to think that I treat everyone as though they deserve basic human dignity. When he told me that he wasn’t there to hurt me or to steal from me, I didn’t believe him, but neither did I disbelieve him. I told him the truth: why he was there did not change the fact that he was where he shouldn’t be. I didn’t let my guard down with him, but neither did I attack him or even call him a liar. I held my ground and handed him to the police when they arrived.
What I’d like to believe is that regarding him with dignity made it possible for him to see what he had done without a cloud of defensiveness. Even if that is an overly optimistic hope, the fact that he made the apology to me indicates that at the very least he identified me as the sort of person that might be manipulated by an apology. Whether his gesture was genuine, it was directed at my decency.
I guess then what sticks with me is the possibility that we live in a world where even when there are wrongs done, people can treat each other with civility. More important than that possibility is my core belief that respect for others, even those who would harm us, can only make my life better. Furthermore, this belief doesn’t have to be shaken in the face of adversity.
That’s what courage is: not bravery or even the ability to act despite fear, but sticking to one’s cur. The ability to have heartkeep one’s beliefs and valuesdespite fear. Sometimes that of course means taking action despite fear, but the meaning goes deeper than the outward actions of those we call courageous.
The sage trusts those who are trustworthy.Tao Te Ching, chapter 49
He trusts also those who are not trustworthy.
Thereby he is trustworthy.
One Reply to “Dignity and Courage”
I was encouraged by reading your story about how you dealt with an intruder in your home, and especially this after-reflection. I have tried to put into practice this kind of recognition and respect of others in my interactions with those who would approach me in my neighborhood, asking for some spare change, or help of some kind. I am often tempted, and sometimes default to the business of getting to my next destination (trying not to make eye-contact), but on my better days, I at least try to recognize the dignity of the other by acknowledging them as a human being who has reached out to me and take the time to respond with conversation. In this practice I have actually made some new acquaintances. Living so close to General Hospital affords me the luxury of recognizing many of these faces — so some conversations have supplied me with names and continuing stories to connect with those faces. I’m not sure how I would have reacted in your situation, but I hope I would have had the grace to reflect on my actions in a similar way.