Saddam Hussein is dead. On the one hand I’m loathe to celebrate the death of anyone. After all, who are we to determine who lives and who dies? But in this case, I find myself remembering a lesson I learned long ago – something my father told me.
I was about 14 years old at the time and working at a radio station in downtown Philadelphia as a desk assistant. This meant that I was the lowest rung on the ladder and as such handled things like ripping wire copy, running scripts into the studio, labeling the tapes that we used to run stories on the air, and in the case of this particular newsroom it meant that I also bore the brunt of the terror from a particular editor who ruled the shift when I worked.
This editor was the meanest son of a bitch you’d ever want to meet. His usual volume of conversation was yelling and every other word out of his mouth was one four letter word or another.
For a teenage kid who grew up in a rather polite, middle-class, suburban, household, this was tough to deal with – especially when the profanity and yelling turned on me. No one was immune to his yelling, though the seasoned newsroom veterans were generally immune to his behavior, merely mirroring his profanity and anger with their own.
I used to come home crying, until one day my father said to me: “Cathy, sometimes you need to speak to people in a language they understand. It doesn’t mean that it’s right. It doesn’t mean that you’re condoning it. It doesn’t mean that it’s the way you should speak to others. But sometimes, in order to catch someone’s attention and to show them that you will stand your ground and be strong, it means playing their game just briefly.”
Not too long after I was at work. I had gone in a bit early and so was there well before my shift started. This editor found something wrong with the way copy had been filed, and when he turned around to the door of the wire room, he saw me. And he started screaming. Frankly I don’t recall exactly what he said, but I do remember that everyone in the newsroom was looking. And I do remember that instead of my usual cowering, that I felt pissed.
I remembered my father’s words. Pulling myself up as tall as I could and taking a deep breath, I let him have it. I called him names that I’d heard in movies and on TV and that I’d maybe uttered to myself but never to another person – let alone an adult and in public. I stood my ground. I stood up for myself. And after verbally eviscerating him, I turned on my heels and went into the bathroom where I promptly sat down on the floor in one of the stalls and began to cry. I figured that I’d be fired for sure.
After a few minutes I gathered myself, splashed some water on my face and went back into the newsroom.
I didn’t get fired. As a matter of fact, when I returned, others in the newsroom gave me a thumbs up or smiled. And from that day forward, the editor was nice to me.
I don’t believe that perpetuating violence and aggression is the answer, but I do believe that there are people in this world who are just wired wrong. And I do believe that in some cases we must speak the language they understand because there is no other way that they will listen and no other action that will stop them from continuing to terrorize others.
There may be some people in this world who mourn the death of Saddam Hussein. I don’t. I’m only sorry that it didn’t happen more quickly.