Michael K. Shaub, July 16th, 2010
I wrote last week about LeBron James’s over-the-top announcement show. Jim Gray, who interviewed James for the show, is not my favorite announcer. His self-interest comes through loud and clear in what he does, and he claimed in an interview with Charlie Rose last night that the program was his idea. Despite Gray’s lack of objectivity in the matter, he made one valid point. The owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, vented after James made his decision to leave Cleveland to join the Miami Heat, saying that LeBron was a traitor and that he had quit during the playoffs. Gray pointed out that Gilbert had not let that stop him from trying to sign LeBron, and he said the criticism was way over the top, something he had never seen before.
Then he hasn’t been looking. Burning bridges is becoming an art form in our society. I have not really figured out why this is so. Why are people so willing to sacrifice long-established relationships for the brief satisfaction of retaliating for a hurt?
Of course, many more people spend time on blogs (not this one) blowing off steam and accusing unseen others of having bad motives in their comments. They practice retaliation on people they don’t know without any readily discernible consequences. But this not only changes the quality of our discourse, it changes these people inside. The practiced emboldening enabled by the anonymous blog eventually laps over into conversations with people they know, and even people they love.
When the U.S. economy struggles, employer loyalty tends to wane. Layoffs lead to a generally suspicious tone in many workplaces, where employees no longer believe that management has their best interests at heart. Layoffs lead to accusations against the company, and those making the decisions. There are legitimate reasons to sue employers (including being fired as a retaliatory move for doing the right thing), but doing it just to make yourself feel better and make them miserable is a losing proposition.
Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter is a poster child for bridge burning. However, his transparent reasons for switching parties did not win him great favor within the Democratic party, and he was not even able to survive his first primary contest running as a Democrat. I am pretty confident that he will not be recruited back by the Republicans.
Dan Gilbert’s response to LeBron’s abandonment seemed to be visceral, and not simply contrived, though I am guessing it will sell tickets and pump up season ticket holder loyalty. In fact, many Cleveland fans wrote in offering to pay part of his fine from the NBA for his comments. But he has burned a bridge with his former star, one it would have been hard to imagine him burning just a month or two ago. His temper tantrum will likely have permanent effects.
Perhaps the most devastating bridge burning I have seen has been in failing marriages, where one hurt is layered on top of the next. And it not only twists the characters of the vengeful parents, it leaves scars on the children that linger long after. I weep for those kids.
There may be bridges worth burning, but most are not. I have come within a word or two of doing it on occasion. In fact, in a few instances, I have likely said that word or two. But I am hard at work learning never to do it again.
I can say it is because life is too short for prolonged anger, and that is true. But, more importantly, in surrendering to the temptation to retaliate, I have allowed that other person to control who I am as a man. They have no right; only I can give it to them.
And it is my hope, in the inevitable day when my personal circumstances deteriorate because of someone else’s actions, that I will not give them that right.