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The Cafeteria Incident and Lessons Learned

When I was in the 9th grade, an unusual event in the cafeteria changed my life in many ways.

They had chili that day. It was one of my favorites, so I went back for seconds and then thirds. Finishing up, I realized that everyone else had left. That’s when Shawn walked up and started an argument, saying that I had “flipped him off” that morning. I had no idea what he was talking about and told him so, but he was definitely wanting a fight. Feeling a little bloated from that chili, I got out of my chair and he was on me in an instant. He must have hit me in the stomach 10 times before I even realized what was happening. I was a pretty tough kid, but sure felt outmatched. We did a lot of damage to each other and to the cafeteria that day. Two food trays were broken, some plates and bowls, he tried to stab me with a fork, and we broke a table before two teachers came in and broke it up. It all happened in a blur, but I remember hitting him several times, and at one point he pushed me back onto a table, and I came off it with both feet hitting him in the chest.

I went to the nurse’s office feeling really sick from all those punches to the gut. A cook in the cafeteria saw Shawn start the fight so he was expelled from school, never to return. … But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

The rest of the school year, Shawn’s friends taunted me and kept telling me that he was going to catch me off campus and “finish me off”. I was terrified. Everyone said he was the toughest fighter in the school and crazy too!

In high school the next year it got worse. He hung around with a guy named Gordon that was HUGE! I was constantly on the lookout for them. I ran like a scared rabbit more than once with other kids laughing at me. Over time I became more isolated. In fact, if they were around the bus stop when it came to school, I stayed on the bus and skipped school… eventually the truancy caught up with me in my junior year and I was pretty much forced to join the military. They made it clear I was not going to finish high school.

Now here’s the irony – Back in the 9th grade, I offered to meet Shawn after school to “finish” whatever business he had with me. He didn’t show! In fact, though I didn’t know it at the time, I must have hurt him worse than he hurt me because he was actually avoiding me.

That sad truth is that I was running from my own fear for those three years. Looking back at the events in an objective manner it is very clear that the LAST thing he wanted was to fight me again. In fact, even the attack in the cafeteria was a cowardly attack. He was hoping to beat me without a fight by catching me off guard, but it didn’t work.

So, you ask yourself… what is old Bill getting at? When we run from our troubles, almost all of them are like Shawn. They are “paper tigers”. Whether a bully, or a bill collector, DON’T RUN! Every time I have met troubles head-on with courage, it was amazing how quickly and easily it was dealt with. For me that has been true with physical threats, but just as much with mental bullies and with things like bill collectors.

When confronted with that kind of fear, ask yourself what the worst possible outcome is. Then consider how best to deal with it. Create a plan… and execute it BEFORE YOU TALK YOURSELF OUT OF IT.

DISCLAIMER – See where I said “Create a plan”? That means you need to access the actual risk and come up with a strategy that makes sense. I’m not suggesting martyrdom here. Don’t go up against a gang of armed thugs alone and unarmed. Think about how you can find a way to ‘even the odds’.

In my experience, nothing overcomes fear like a few deep breaths and immediate ACTION.

I hope none of you need this advice, but if it just helps one person, it sure will mean a lot to me that sharing my experience has helped another person who has had to live with that kind of fear.

Have a great day everyone!