When Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Casey Heynes and the Body Slam Heard Round the Internet

March 21, 2011 in It is what it is - opinion column, News & Events | Comments (2)

 

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When I was 15 years old, I had a job ripping wire copy at KYW Newsradio in Philadelphia. It was the 1980s and media outlets had yet to be computerized, so folks like me were responsible for literally “ripping” copy from the machines chugging out a steady stream of news from the Associated Press, Reuters and other wire services. The youngest employee in the newsroom (in fact the youngest person hired by Westinghouse Broadcasting at the time), I fairly bubbled with excitement every time I went to the station – unless {name redacted} was on the editor’s desk.

{Name redacted} was a news veteran who’d been at the station for years. He ruled the newsroom with an iron fist, sans glove of any sort, and besides the militant adherence to process, he had just about the foulest mouth of anyone I’d ever met. Now to be clear, I was a teenager from the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia, raised in home where uttering “shoot” could result in being sent to your room. So meeting someone like {name redacted}, for whom dropping the F-bomb was less punctuation and more a staple of every sentence, shook me a bit. On top of it, he yelled. A lot. Pretty much every other word out of his mouth was fuck and generally it was uttered in anger and at someone.

As the lowest man on the totem pole and the youngest in the room, I often found myself squarely in his crosshairs – taking the brunt of verbal missiles that landed with purpose and venom. It wasn’t that I’d necessarily done anything wrong, it was more that he needed to let off steam, and I served as a convenient valve. Some of the more seasoned folks in the newsroom told me to forget about it, that he was a bully and it was just how he made folks earn their stripes. I tried working harder. I tried triple checking my work to ensure I didn’t make any mistakes. I tried going out of my way and doing extra work in the newsroom. Nothing seemed to work.

At first I’d go home and cry. My mom asked me what was wrong so I told her about this guy’s behavior. She listened quietly and suggested I turn the other cheek. She suggested that instead of reacting to what he said, I should take a deep breath, and just keep doing my job. At first I took my mother’s advice and pretended it didn’t bother me. I kept a stiff upper lip and no matter how ferociously he laid into me, I’d nod, do whatever he needed and go on my way. Generally I’d go into the bathroom during my breaks and cry.

Several weeks went by and my resolve was wearing thin. It was harder and harder to hold that stiff upper lip. One night as my father was driving me home I found myself sitting quietly and trying not to fall apart in the car. He asked me what was wrong, and the tears began to pour. After telling my father about all the things {name redacted} had said, the way he ridiculed me and yelled I half expected my father to say the same thing that my mother had said – that I should not let him get to me.

He didn’t.

Instead my father told me that there are many kinds of people in the world and that different people communicate in different ways. My father told me that it is always best to first walk the higher road and endeavor to turn the other cheek, but that there are times when that does not serve. There are times when you are attacked when it becomes imperative to stand your ground and speak in a language that the aggressor understands. It does not condone the behavior. It does not mean that this is the way you should always behave. It merely allows you to let the other person know that yes, you heard them. Yes, you know what they mean. And NO they cannot push you around any more.

A week or so later I found myself at the station a bit early for my shift. I liked getting there early because it allowed me to get into the rhythm of the news cycle and hit the ground running. Someone had pulled the last batch of wire copy and then not sorted it properly. Some news alert had just come through and {name redacted} was pawing through the reams of paper feverishly trying to find the latest printout. Crashing through the paper like a rhino charging through dense brush, his tirade began. Starting with a a deep mutter and rising quickly to its usual bellow, the profanity saturated cry filled the newsroom as he wheeled around to see who was responsible for his inconvenience. Having just walked in, I was standing in precisely the wrong place at the wrong moment. I hadn’t even been in the copy room yet, but that didn’t matter.

He leveled his look at me and began to yell. I braced myself as the first wave of profanity hit, and the moment he took a break, I made my move. Taking a deep breath and standing as straight as I could, I returned fire. “Fuck you,” I said sotto voce. The newsroom went silent. I continued, the volume of my voice rising as I continued a liberal dose of my own four-letter vocabulary. After a minute or two of letting him know in no uncertain terms that no only was this error not mine, and that I generally thought he was an asshole and didn’t appreciate how he spoke to me, I turned on my heel and marched out of the room. I made a beeline for the bathroom where I promptly burst into tears, pretty sure that I was going to get fired. Instead, when I emerged a few minutes later {name redacted} actually apologized and from that moment forward he treated me with a lot more respect. He still cursed a lot, but he never yelled at me again.

This week, young Casey Heynes took a stand. He tried turning the other cheek – literally – as he’d been doing for weeks on end. He endured pokes, punches and taunts. Then he stood his ground. This young man spoke in a language that the weak-minded bully understood and he spoke clearly. I say bravo Casey Heynes. May you hold on to your sense of self, one that led you first to walk the high road and turn the other cheek and then, at long last, when doing so didn’t serve you any longer you stood your ground and told them ENOUGH.

Bravo.

 
 

2 Responses to “When Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Casey Heynes and the Body Slam Heard Round the Internet”

  1. Wai Choen says:

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