I am indebted to Victoria Hamilton-Rivers and to Belva Shadwell who
contributed material for this conversation.
A man I've known for many years, a friend of mine, was in a quandary.
At the factory where he works, one of his colleagues kept a gun.
Ordinarily, he said, he wouldn't be concerned about it, discarding for
a moment his opinion about gun control, which is that gun control laws
are too lax.
But he was concerned. Ordinarily his concerns may have
been alleviated if the weapon was licensed. This one wasn't - his
colleague said so. Ordinarily his concerns may have been alleviated if
the weapon was securely stored. This one wasn't - it lay in full view,
in easy reach on his colleague's desk in an area often passed by school
children visiting the factory. His concern, his dilemma (what - if
anything - could he, should he do about it?) was starting
to interfere with his enjoyment of his work.
He was dithering. Actually it was more than that. I could see he was
anxious too. He asked me whether I thought he was stepping over a line
ie whether he shouldn't mind his own business rather than
ask his colleague to
get the weapon licensed, and
keep it safely secured out of children's sight and reach.
I said "I get your dilemma. On the one hand you're concerned about the
gun. On the other hand you're concerned about interfering. By the way,
I also get (although you didn't say it) your concern about
possible repercussions from your colleague.".
He said to me "I didn't ask you that. I didn't ask you if you
got my dilemma!". He said the word got with a
slightly sarcastic tone, yet he had a smile on his face. "I asked you
whether you think I'd be stepping over the line, whether I shouldn't
mind my own business rather than confront him about the gun.".
I said "I got that too!". I also said the word
got back at him with a slightly sarcastic tone, yet I also
had a smile on my face. "You want me to give you answers. You want me
to tell you what to do. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to tell
you what to do. I am, however, willing to be your committed
listener. I'm willing to listen to you until you figure out for
yourself what you're going to do about it.".
Something shifted for him right then and there. He relaxed, pursed his
lips, and started coming up with different scenarios. He could confront
his colleague. Not a good idea. Been done before. He could take the
gun away. Better, but it's still stealing. He was flipping through
options like he was searching through untidy piles of paper on his desk
trying to find where he'd misplaced his electricity bill.
Then he stopped. His eyes widened. "I could tell the police" he said.
He was leaning forward before. Now he was sitting bolt upright.
We were getting to the heart of the matter, yet I could tell he still
anguished about this option. "What if I do tell the
police?" he asked.
"They'll probably cite him for carrying an unlicensed firearm" I said.
"What if I don't tell the police?" he asked.
I replied "If that weapon ever hurts anyone, and you realize you were
in a position to do something about it and prevent it happening and
you didn't do anything about it, you'll regret it for the rest of
your life. You could also ask the police to keep your name out of it
when they confront your colleague. And if they say they can't, well
then at least you know what your options are.".
After a minute, he said "I got it.". This time, there was no sarcastic
intonation. We both smiled.
It was clear to me he was on the verge of a breakthrough. I could tell
he already knew he would go to the police. But what he
hadn't yet gotten was who he is in the matter of taking a
Now thinking it through, he asked "If I tell the police, aren't I
Making trouble, ie whatever his considerations of making trouble
were, was totally irrelevant. I said "Let's say, for argument's
sake, there's a gun and you tell the police there's a gun. That would
be a stand you take. You'd be taking a stand for safety. There's no
question about it. If you saw a fire had started in the factory, you'd
immediately sound a fire alarm, wouldn't you? If the factory was on
fire, you wouldn't consider sounding a fire alarm to be making trouble,
would you? It's really a matter of your integrity, isn't it? If the
factory was on fire, you'd immediately sound a fire alarm. Just like
that, you could tell the police about the gun.".
I continued. "But what if there was no gun? Let's say,
for argument's sake, there wasn't a gun but you tell the
police there's a gun. Telling the police in and of itself isn't
making trouble. If there's a gun and you tell the police there's a gun,
But if there's no gun and you tell the police there's a
gun, now that would be making trouble. In fact, it
would make more trouble for you than it would for him.".
Another slow minute ticked by. Then his lips cracked the
faintest smile. He slowly nodded his head, saying softly
"I do get it.". And get it he did. I could tell. He got it in the way
people get something when it's so thick, so clean
in their listening that there's actually nothing left to say. The
silence hung velvety in the air between us.
He had distinguished for himself where he would be being
I could hear it in his speaking. I could see it on his face. In the
space of distinguishing the
the possibility of authentically taking a stand became available.
Two Weeks Later
I saw him two weeks later. Although eager to learn what happened, I
feigned a certain nonchalance. "Well?" I asked, after we'd made
an appropriate amount of small talk, "did you tell the police?". "I
did!" he said. "And??? ...". I let the pregnant question
hang in the air.
He told the police about the gun. He asked for his
to be protected since he feared repercussions. The police agreed. He
explained he wasn't trying to make trouble for his colleague. He was,
however, concerned about everyone's safety, especially the safety of
the school children who visit the factory.
The next time my friend saw his colleague, his colleague told him the
police had confronted him and confiscated his gun. He was completely
oblivious to the fact it was my friend who told the police about the
gun. The police issued him a citation for carrying an unlicensed
"Oh really?" said my friend, keeping his joy to himself that the
situation had been handled equitably, "What was it like?". His
colleague said he'd been mildly embarrassed, but was quite relieved the
citation against him wasn't a whole lot worse.
"Great!" I said. There's no moral to this story, I told
him. It's useful, however, to notice if you take a stand for integrity,
you may tread on some toes. And if you do, the place to look for what's
next to do is to your stand, not to the toes.
He laughed. I could see a great burden had lifted off him. He was
enjoying his work again.