May 12 2014

Paul Williams



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“Getting even” is a phrase that can be read two ways with very different meanings.  For example, consider a gangster or a bricklayer.  Revenge for one, precision and balance for another

When my feelings are hurt or I’m being insulted or verbally attacked I’m usually fairly passive.   I tend to go a little tharn like the rabbits described in “Watership Down”.  That almost paralytic place where I can’t really think or move. Only not so extreme. Tharn Light actually.  I’m functioning but somehow slightly removed from what I’m feeling.  It’s as if I’m an uninvolved witness to the scene. It passes quickly.  I’m surprised by the emotions, don’t understand why anyone would want to cause me pain, but these days I’m not much for the instant counter attack.

Still, I’m human.  Do me wrong and after the shock wears off I often begin making mind movies with sharp, cutting edge dialogue that might have impressed James Elroy, Charles Bukowski or Bogart.   They’re words that are seldom heard. Almost never spoken.  Why?

I get even.

As in balanced.  Something’s happened to my macho monster response gene.  It’s been misplaced.  Or washed so many times it’s threadbare.  It’s unable to produce a decent act of sabotage or comeuppance. Even in that rare incident of physical violence I’m finding the ability to rise above the situation and see the incident from both points of view.

Recently I suffered a bit of road rage.  Driving to a breakfast meeting in Santa Monica, I noticed my windshield was looking a little grubby.  I used my wipers with the built in spray.  As I was exiting the freeway a huge white truck was suddenly tight on my tail and blaring its horn.  I pulled off and as the truck passed I rolled down my window to see what the problem was.   I was suddenly hit by a flying container of milky coffee.

I was drenched.  I followed the driver and at a light got out of my car and asked him what in the name of God was wrong.  “You got water on my truck asshole!” he screamed.  “I just washed it and look what you did!”

I was obviously dealing with someone really unstable.  I apologized for the few drops of water on his windshield and got into my car, locked the doors and left.  I was shaking like a leaf.  And then it was gone.  Completely.  I knew I was safe.  I knew he was sick.  I got even.

It was remarkable.  I had no desire to call the police.  No desire to become involved in any kind of retribution.  He threw a container of coffee at my car.  I would not continue the drama.

I got even.

His attack was insanity for sure and undeserved, but there are times when I’m on the receiving end of a little outrage that I’ve earned.  More and more I begin to see the truth in the character defect that’s being pointed out and even when the method of reproach has been excessive I try to grasp the lesson in the moment and adjust accordingly.

I sound like such a grown up.  Not always. But I’m getting better.  I say so when I’m wrong and try to understand what people are going through that leads them to a combative stance.

It usually changes my outlook.  Sometimes in a heartbeat.

I get even.

I found a quote recently that pretty succinctly states what I hope would be the message of my blog. It’s by Toba Beta.  “If you’re betrayed, release disappointment at once.  By that way, the bitterness has no time to take root.”

Whew.  That makes so much sense.  Whether it’s an incidental snub or something that feels like a knife in the back, when we lose our spiritual equilibrium all is not lost.  There’s healing and hope in the offering of a little love and understanding and “getting even” should always return us to the balanced comfort of gratitude and trust.

Paul Williams

Paul Williams is a singer, songwriter, actor, recovery advocate and has been a fixture on the American cultural scene since the seventies. His book Gratitude and Trust is now available.

  • Michael Gullickson

    I try very hard to avoid responding in kind. What do I gain by doing so?
    I have twice been the victim of road you were. I think I might be considered a slow driver, that is 3 to 5 miles over the speed limit rarely more. Of course that’s not good enough for some folks. Once on Paradise Road in Vegas I was driving a rental car( even though I lived in Vegas – I had a few days with my future/present wife and I was taking her back to the airport) a car got behind me and started blowing his horn. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t figure out what he wanted me to do or who he thought I was… there was room to pass around me and so he did. He then stopped in front of me and jumped out popped his trunk, and it appeared to me, going for a shotgun?? Or some kind of weapon. I scooted around him, and on Paradise and Tropicana went straight in a must turn right lane probably at 70 miles an hour. He didn’t follow me or if he did he didn’t catch me. What i think happened was he thought I was someone else .. perhaps someone running off with his wife and my rental car matched her boy friends car. I still want to know but I wasn’t going to ask. When I got to the Airport I couldn’t stop shaking. I went 40 miles an hour over the speed limit! I swerved through a must turn right lane! That is so not me, but to this day I feel I saved our lives.
    Thank you for your story. You and I both know. There’s something deeper going on than getting water on his truck. There’s something deeper that made the driver mad at me.
    In our community here we have a term called FIPS which stands for formerly important persons. A lot of folks are not over themselves when they were Airline Pilots, or Ceo’s or professional athletes. They are just members of the community now. There’s a hall of fame pro football player that lives a block and a half away from me. When I first moved here I saw him outside working in his yard and I went up and shook his hand. Know what I saw? A man who was humble and welcomed other people into his life..
    as you do.. as we all should … after all we’re all in this together.

    • Paul Williams

      There’s a song I wrote for the “Happy Days” musical called “Run”
      Sometimes, just a little bit scared can be a good thing
      Sometimes, just a little bit scared brings out your best
      when you need to bite the bullet
      or to walk right thru some pain
      try thinking like a hero
      and then acting like John Wayne
      get on with it pilgrim
      do the deed that must be done
      or course the other option is to run
      run run run run run run …

      Made great sense to get out of there. For both of us.

      Run like the wind
      Fly like a kite
      Disappear like drumsticks do at dinner on sunday night!

      I’m glad you survived. 🙂

      • Michael Gullickson

        thanks for that paul . Going to very rural texas for a family illness The towns name is Tenaha and we’re going to stay in Center texas perhaps I’ll become more centered. All country roads where there is still breathing air…. to quote a favorite song writer of mine.. Mike

  • Paula Kaye

    Hi Paul,
    Your article really resonated with me initially because I’m an “Earthling” to a multiple “Recoverer”. He’s opened my eyes to a lot of issues that my mother evidenced but, never verbalized.
    He’s also been teaching me how to “get even” with the memories that were not so nice while she was here.
    I think I’d like to “get even” more consistently now. 🙂
    Thank you for sharing this, it helped me get through Mother’s Day with a bit more grace.

    • Paul Williams

      Family gatherings and holidays in general come packed with emotion for many of us. It’s entering the land of “eek!”. Christmas is the biggie for me. Powerful memories with an emotional punch. It sounds like you’re “recoverer” has found some wisdom on his journey. I love hearing that. Thanks for the comment. Glad you’re here.

  • Rose Poirier

    I believe in the Law of Karma; it teaches me to refine my behavior. Rather than agonize over the unexplainable, unexpected and sometimes painful events in my life, Karma discourages me from reacting angrily by saying or doing something which would have suffering as a result. You and I are on the same page, I believe.

    • Paul Williams

      Yes, we are. I don’t think my calm in the face of a storm is a conscious choice. It’s certainly not courageous behavior. I can be pretty shaken and actually feel that fear based reaction disappear. Feel it being removed. For me it’s a gift rather than a personal choice. Being aware of it though makes me want to pursue it. Does that make sense?

      • Rose Poirier

        Totally. It’s like you threw some water on a fire by stepping out of the situation and allowing yourself to remain calm even if it wasn’t a conscious decision. By your behaving like water, this bully found you calm, relaxed and confident – again, even if you were shaking inside; the result is that he starts reflecting on his behavior and ultimately the few drops of water you splattered on his windshield may inspire him to make a change for the better.

        • Paul Williams

          I would hope that he’d review the incident and realize he’s out of control. That he has some major anger issues. But, he may have other problems larger than the anger. I pray he finds relief from those storms soon. Thanks Rose

  • Steppie Royes

    I’ve watched a few “Smokey And The Bandit” out-takes and have heard a fowl mouthed Paulie. The possibilities of what can come out of that mouth, on a movie set, isn’t as surprising as hearing about you being able to balance yourself and even out after being soaked with milky coffee, in the real world. That had to be hard to do but you ended up being the better person.

    These days I like to think that my higher power will take care of anyone who might wrong me. He’s a better judge than I. But as I confessed in other comments on this site, I have my moments.

    We can all be asses from time to time and we’ll allow the smallest of things to take the blame when it’s really something much more that’s bothering us. Quoting Ian Maclaren “Be kind: for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

    I have to agree with Michael Gullickson. The problem with the other driver was much deeper than the dampness on his truck.

    I will keep the image of your story and the more positive meaning of “getting even” in mind when I get offended or when I feel the urge for revenge. After all, two wrongs don’t make a right. Like a tight rope walker, we must give our undivided attention on staying balanced no matter how wobbly the world gets.

    Great blog, Paul!

    • Paul Williams

      I think my new found balance .. and it didn’t happen overnight .. is a lesson learned veeeeery slowly. There was a time when I was a young man when I would dive into defense mode and start swinging, metaphorically most of the time, to prove I wasn’t to blame when someone went after me. Slowly but surely the truth takes hold. When we’re wrong we admit it. If not we don’t have to erupt in violent defense. Tracey wrote a great blog on the subject called “First Responder” Thanks Steppie. Always good to hear from you.

  • Robin Madsen

    I love the quote from Toba Beta. I usually end up there, after some fussing and fuming. Is that just human nature? Years of conditioning? A person I don’t much care for scammed me – nothing costly, really, just annoying – he directed all of his collection agency notices to my address (this after I offered to help him), and then disappeared. When I caught on, I was irate, but then simply explained the “mishap” to the companies, and let them know where he might be found. I haven’t heard from them, or him, since. Was that my getting even? Thing is, on the rare occasion when I run into him, I smile & nod & keep walking. Then I’m mad at myself – I should’ve said something! Like what – I know what you did & you’re a creep? What good what that do? What would you do?
    I definitely avoid confrontation with those road rage people. You’re lucky he didn’t have a gun, Paul!
    Thank you for this. Your insight is always appreciated. This blog is amazing.

    • Paul Williams

      You make me think of another side of this issue. Something I might have added to the piece now that I think about it. Hmm. Maybe a part two blog. When we’re faced with a crazy, as in my road rage situation, the choice is pretty clear. Get away quickly and don’t engage. But if it’s a friend or a family member who’s acting out in an unacceptable fashion is there another option? Isn’t part of the way they learn is by having the truth reflected back to them?
      I think I avoid conflict sometimes when the better choice would be to share what I’m observing. It’s easier to let it slide.
      What would I have done faced with your fraudulent friend. I think you made the right choice. Not worth the time and energy of an argument. We’d rather have you spending your time here at G & T .. Thanks, Robin

      • Robin Madsen

        Agreed. Thank you, Paul!

  • Bryan Castner

    Until now, I’d just looked at “getting even” in the negative connotation – thank you, Paul, for the alternate definition! Getting even – getting back in balance, getting back on center. And the sooner the better.

    I was getting all fired up as I was reading your road rage story. In my head, I was flashing all kinds of emotions and attitudes, running the mind movie like you said. Those very kinds of things have happened to me more than I care to think about, and for all but the most recent incidents, the way I handled it was nothing I want to remember. Worst of all, I have more than once been more the perpetrator than not. It is really painful to admit that.

    Learning more about my true nature through my recovery has done amazing things for my serenity on the road. I drive slower. I go out of my way to give folks the right-of-way. I smile. I try to visualize the other vehicles not as faceless machines of aggression, but simply as other transport pods with humans in them. This works well until some jerk won’t let up on the tailgating and I run a mind-movie about slamming on the brakes and jumping out of the car like Rambo. Lately, that movie has been dissolving as I find my center and decide that whatever diabolical action I was fantasizing would not be the way to go. As you say, Paul, “getting even”, and as soon as possible.

    This more passive reaction seems to disarm many of these potentiality nasty scenes because I have far fewer of them these days. That is all well and good, and I commend myself for taking the high road when I do. However, there is another, even more practical reason to walk away whenever possible: I live in Arizona, the land of the Gun. Gabby Giffords is a personal friend of mine. I have known congressman Ron Barber since high school. I know all too well how quickly lives can change because of irresponsible use of firearms. Thank God that Gabby and Ron are still with us after that horrific day on January 8th, 2011, and God bless the six folks that are not.

    I just assume that every driver on the road is packing heat and I’ll bet I’m not too far off. This really helps me do my best to avoid confrontation, as painful to my ego as that might be.

    Of course, there are always the “I shoulda” thoughts afterwards, which are useless. Ram Dass has said, and I have quoted this here before, “when you’re pushing something away, it still has you”. Amen. I just need to keep remembering that.

    I guess one would have to ask the fellow driving the truck if wasting a nice cup of coffee was worth it? Coffee is not cheap these days.

    Thank you once again, Paul, for a thought-provoking topic!

    • Robin Madsen

      “When you’re pushing something away, it still has you.” That’s a good one! I’m glad you’ve mended your road raging ways, Bryan. Those people scare the (blank) out of me, because I too fear they may be packing heat. I wish we all could be kinder to each other. Happy Trails, everyone!

      • Bryan Castner

        Yes Robin, it is so much easier to be kind than so invested in our own egos – it takes so much less energy! Thank you for the response and happy to have you as a fellow blogger. Isn’t this just the best site?

        • Robin Madsen

          Absolutely. Don’t always have time to comment, but never miss reading and thinking about what has been said. Good stuff here!

          • Paul Williams

            I LOVE seeing these conversations. So does Tracey. I admit to getting a little grumpy when there are no comments. Ego ego ego. But, Tracey and I both have the exact opposite reaction when we see the exchange of ideas and comments amongst you guys. Our family of G & T’s. We’re grateful for every one of you.

    • Paul Williams

      A great post Bryan. There was a period when the Williams household was in deep regular treatment/prayer for Gabby. I have so much respect for her and her husband. Yes, there are some crazy ass people out there. Your recovery has taken you down the same path as mine. That ability to ‘go global’ and see the world around you in that friendly and caring fashion makes a simple drive to the market a totally different experience.
      I remember in early sobriety seeing a building painted a horrible shade of purple …. but then got this flash of a painter going to his wife and saying, “Honey, I got a job today. There’s an apartment building on Fountain. And the woman that owns it loves purple and …. ” well, you get the picture. We can bring a positive and loving energy to the simplest tasks and when we have those potentially ‘titanic disaster’ moments we can excuse ourselves and exit quickly.

  • willbuckley

    Unfortunately, the truck drivers reaction probably had little to do with you or the incident. Most likely they were acting out their frustration with some other part of their life and you were merely the trigger for their misguided action.

    Your response was the right one. By not fueling their anger the only thing they were left with was reflecting on their actions.

    • Paul Williams

      Thanks Will. We’ve all had to deal with similar situations. Glad you concur. Blessings, Paul