DEALING WITH INSULTS: LESSONS FROM THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY
A few months ago, I discussed a sad situation in which a man and his son mocked Hope, a ten-year old girl with cerebral palsy, as she walked to her school bus (see INSULTS: LESSON FROM THE CASE OF THE MAN SENTENCED TO JAIL FOR MOCKING DISABLED GIRL).
Mr. Bailey, the man who was caught on a video mocking the girl, explained his actions by saying he was reacting to name-calling directed at his son. And so this illustrates one approach to insults. Someone insulted the man’s son, so he returned the insult by mocking the girl.
In my earlier post, I mentioned that it is interesting that many people who responded to the video and felt Mr. Bailey’s actions were wrong included in their criticism of him insults and advocated that someone needed to beat him up. For example, one person wrote, “Would love to beat the living crap out of this turd.”
According to the DIG Conflict Model we have been discussing, providing criticism with physical attacks is the lowest level of psychological maturity on a five-level scale (see post titled PROVIDING NEGATIVE CRITICISM: FIVE LEVELS OF MATURITY). Calling a person names or insulting the person in other ways is a level 2 response, the second lowest level of maturity. Both physical attacks and insults increase the probability of an escalation until someone gets killed or arrested. If Hope’s father resorted to these lower level responses, a bad situation could become worse. The last thing that is in the best interest of ten-year old Hope is for her father to end up dead or in prison.
Rather then to think of Mr. Bailey as an idiot deserving to be beat up, the DIG Conflict Model teaches us to view him at some very specific level of psychological maturity. He responds to those who insulted his son at level two (see RESPONDING TO CRITICISM: FOUR LEVELS OF MATURITY). It also provides us some very specific information about what he has to learn to reach a higher level.
I know that many people feel that for most situations the levels of maturity discussed on this blog make sense but when someone acts as Mr. Bailey did, it’s time to put the levels of maturity aside.
In my effort to encourage my readers to think more deeply about this issue, among the things I discussed was an incident that happened between the first black major league baseball player, Jackie Robinson, and his team mate, Pee Wee Reese.
(SPOILER ALERT: For those of you who plan to see the new movie, “42,” it portrays this episode. Therefore, you may wish to read this after you see the movie.)
Just before Mr. Robinson began to play in the majors for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Dodgers’ general manager, Branch Rickey, made it clear to him that he would face criticism in the form of the most vile insults. If he was to play, Robinson had to show the courage to not return insults with insults or to lose his temper and jeopardize the chances of all the blacks who would follow him if he could help break down the race barriers.
As I told the story in my earlier post, I wrote:
If Mr. Robinson couldn’t return the insults, could nothing be done? On one particular day when fans were being particularly insulting to Mr. Robinson, the smallest ballplayer on his team, Pee Wee Reese, stepped out of the dugout. Mr. Reese was a beloved player with the fans for his hard, hustling play. He stepped over to Mr. Robinson, put his arm around him and stood by his side.
This gesture was discussed around the country, and even today. And a monument honoring this moment stands tall and strong in Brooklyn.
If you go by it some day and watch for a while, from time to time you’ll see a grandfather describing to his grandson how the statue symbolizes what can be done even by two men who responded to insults without returning insults. I must admit that I’m no kid anymore, and yet, whenever I walk by that statue, I get all misty inside.
Since I wrote that earlier blog post, I saw the movie, “42.”
The film beautifully develops the relationship between Reese and Robinson. At first, most of Robinson’s teammates reject him. “I’m not playing with any niggers!” cries one teammate. “If we let him play, pretty soon the team owners will be bringing up more of them, and they’ll be all taking our jobs!”
“But,” says Pee Wee Reese, “we always knew that if the owners could find someone who could do our jobs better than us then we’d be sent down to the minors. We always accepted that as fair when it was white guys who might take our jobs. Why is it any different just because of the color of a guy’s skin?”
“It just is,” came the reply, but with a voice a little less self-assured.
In time, Robinson’s approach to dealing with insults on the field acquired for him more and more sympathy. Of course there were times when the insults began to get to Robinson, but he would seek to deal with his anguish either in private, with Branch Rickey, or with his lovely wife. On the field he was all about showing what he could do, and it was sometimes disappointing and sometimes magnificent. There are always heroes in baseball, and Robinson glistened in that role on more than a few occasions.
Perhaps the finest moments in the movie come about just after we meet a father and son sitting in the seats of a Brooklyn Dodger game. When Pee Wee Reese is announced as the captain of the Dodgers, the fans in the seats, including this father and son duo, begin to cheer. The boy, a bit of a pee wee himself, tells his father that Reese is his favorite, all-time greatest player ever!
Then Jackie Robinson’s name is called, and he jogs on to the field with some supportive cries, but many, many insulting cries as well.
We then see a close-up of the father and son. The father cries out, “Get off the field you lousy nigger.” Others in the crowd cry out similar sentiments. And before long, the father’s son begins to shout, “Get off the field you lousy nigger!”
But it is at this moment, Reese, who was fielding ground balls at shortstop, pauses, then trots over to Robinson at first base. “How’s it going?” Reese says to Robinson, with a friendly smile.
We see the young boy in the stands, watching on, looking confused, as Reese continues to shoot the breeze in a friendly exchange with Robinson. When a wave of insults for Robinson comes from a portion of the stands, Reese puts his arm around Robinson, and continues to chat with him, smiling, patting him on the shoulder.
Then the umpire calls out to Reese, “This isn’t a social club, let’s play ball.” Reese again pats Robinson on his back, and then trots back to his position at shortstop.
Once again, we see the young boy, and he has now stopped calling Robinson insulting names.
And we see that soon afterwards most of his teammates begin to change their minds and to treat Robinson like a fellow human being.
In my recent blog posts, I’ve been discussing the ABCs of Power (see for example, (The ABCs of Power: The Letter “A”). In the movie, “42”, we don’t see how Robinson worked to employ the very first source of power on The ABCs of Power list–Advancing skill. But there is no doubt that Robinson worked for years on becoming the star athlete that he became.
His skill at projecting the highest levels of maturity when criticized enormously increased the respect that he garnered during his day to day performance. History teaches us that it was Robinson’s use of these skills that secured for him the source of power known as Coalition, as he united with Branch Rickey, Pee Wee Reese, and ultimately, with his many fans, that turned a dream into a magnificent achievement.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.