A few weeks ago, I had to run an errand and drop off dry cleaning. I had all four of my kids in the car with me. I pulled into the lot and aimed my car between two parked cars on either side of me. No problemo. One of my sons came inside with me to drop off the dry cleaning, and we were back to my car in a span of minutes.

But this time, a different car pulled in next to me. And he didn’t leave much room for us to get it.

The driver of the newly arrived car must have realized this. He was still in his car when we returned. He adjusted his mirror to give my son a little wiggle room to open our car door without hitting his.

My son got in and I was ready to get in on my side. But … the neighboring driver gave me a strange glance. And then he said “If you had parked better, your son could have gotten in easier.”

“I don’t think I was too far off,” I responded as we both looked down at the line between our cars.

“I had to move my mirror so your son could get in,” he reminded me.

I smiled. “Well, I’m sure worse things have happened to both of us than this.”

But before I finally got in, the neighboring driver offered a final shot: “A little common courtesy goes a long way.”

Clunk. I shut my car door, pulled away and left. Once I was driving, I asked my daughter to remind me if he was parked there when we first pulled in.  “No,” she said. “He pulled in when you were inside the shop.”

I thought so. I remembered when we pulled in that there was a car on either side of me. So, when I pulled in, I tried as best I could to leave ample room on both sides. In my mind, I was falsely accused. So, I let out some choice words of anger directed toward my parking lot accuser. As the last words left my lips, I can still hear my youngest protest from the back seat …. “Paaaaapa!”

I continued to vent and rationalize why the man in the parking lot deserved my well-placed barb, especially since he was the one in the wrong (my opinion). But, what I failed to do in that moment was allow my anger to be directed in a healthy way. Instead, it got released to my kids.

Comeuppance: Giving someone what is due to them. What they deserve.

That’s what I would do if I had the moment back. My squelching of comeuppance is why I believe I still think about this situation today.

If I could do it over again, I would have walked over to him and explained the sequence of events:

1. When I first parked, there was a car on either side of me.

2. I moved my vehicle directly between the two cars that were there.

3. When he parked, he pulled in so close, that he (not me) squeezed my son in.  

I wouldn’t have yelled. I wouldn’t have gotten into a physical altercation. I would have just let him know that he didn’t see the entire picture. That would have been a better example for my kids.

Do you reflect on past situations that stimulated anger and you wish you had handled it differently? When you replay the situation the way you “wish” it had unfolded, does it include comeuppance? To be clear, I’m not suggesting revenge here. I’m talking about healthy warrior energy. Can anger and comeuppance play a role in helping us move through life with more integrity?

I believe it can. After all, when Jesus flipped the tables of the merchants in the synagogue, it was comeuppance. Jesus felt anger. His healthy and righteous anger led to action. His action honored his integrity.

Maybe you’re dealing with a simple courtesy issue like a parking spot. If so, lean into your healthy warrior energy — comeuppance. Direct your anger in the appropriate direction, and it won’t leak out sidewise. If you’ve been through an initial weekend experience with The Crucible Project, then you know how to do this.

The Tragic Triad & Tragic Optimism

However, many of us are in a really tough season of life right now. Unfortunately, some of us are face to face with tragedy. What then?

Viktor Frankl is a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. He certainly knows what it’s like to be in a heavy, difficult, overwhelming season of life. In fact, Frankl coined a phrase called the “tragic triad” that he–and many of us–go through. The triad is pain, guilt, and death.

Maybe your issue connects to pain, guilt or death. How can righteous anger and comeuppance be applied then? In my analysis, Frankl urges us to acknowledge the righteous anger and transform it into a righteous power.

Frankl asserts that to navigate the tragic triad, we need to exercise “tragic optimism.” He asserts that we:

1. Turn suffering into human achievement and accomplishment

2. Derive from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better

3. Recognize that life’s transitoriness serves as an incentive to take responsible action.

This, according to Frankl, is how we search and find meaning in this life. He implores us to:

  • Create a work or do a deed
  • Experience something or encounter someone that inspires love
  • Rise above yourself, growbeyond yourself, and, in turn, change yourself

This journey is going to require something from you. First, you’ll need to be willing–and even rejoice–in suffering (see James 1:2). Second, you’ll need to allow pain and suffering to enoble you as opposed to degrade you (see James 1:3). And third, you’ll need to convert your righteous anger into positive movement (see James 1:4).

Here it is (James 1: 2-4): Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.   

Jesus understood this. Frankl understood this. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this as well.

Do you? Will you allow the pain and suffering in your life get you angry enough to create a good work, to inspire love, and to rise above yourself?

If you haven’t signed up for the second-level weekends, this will help you with all three avenues of finding meaning. You’ll be challenged to create a work, experience love, and rise above.

The journey continues ….

By Tony Bradburn

Tony completed his initial weekend in June of 2008 and is a graduate of our two-year transformational program. Tony hails from the idyllic shades found in Crystal Lake, IL. After being adopted from the Dominican Republic at the age of 6 months into a family in Elgin with two biological children, going through school, getting sober, becoming a teacher and a football coach, getting married, going to more schooling to get a few Master’s degrees, having four beautiful children, moving into educational administration, getting divorced, and now having principalship duties, it’s safe to say that Tony’s path has never been a straight one.

Photo Credit: North Carolina Museum of History