I’ve always considered the following words from Jesus to be the most difficult:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:43-44)
When it comes to pride, I’m guilty as any, but the other day sort of confirmed this and taught me a valuable lesson: even when you’re right, or wronged by someone else, mercy and forgiveness trump a Pyrrhic victory.
What’s a Pyrrhic victory? The phrase Pyrrhic victory is named after Greek King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans at Heraclea and Asculum during the Pyrrhic War. This is a victory that incurs such a devastating cost that it is tantamount to a defeat. Imagine winning, but winning at a toll that negates any sense of achievement or actual profit.
Such an occurrence happened to me the other day. I have been battling a leak in my basement and had a contractor show up in order to assess a job, a simple one: remove four steps to expose the wall so the leak can be fixed. The contractor surprised me when he said it would take 4 hours, to which I expressed my objection to his level of effort. I told him I didn’t think it needed to take that long, telling him I thought I could do it in less time. He said nothing but “okay,” started walking out the door, slammed it, and I confronted him in my driveway.
“Don’t slam my door, you know my wife is putting my boys down for a nap!”
He shook it off.
“Are you the owner?” I asked, pointing to his company van.
“Expect to see negative reviews for your behavior.”
He left and I called up another contractor I was considering hiring to verify the level of effort I was just quoted. My suspicion was confirmed: this contractor was about to take twice the amount of time to do the job.
Moments later my wife came down and discussed what happened. Now, let me tell you, I have a great wife, but she will be the first to unhinge my ego when I need to be told I’m in the wrong. Instead, she told me the house shook when he slammed the door, and that she heard the entire conversation: I was not wrong. Yet.
Hours later, I completed the job myself. It took me one hour, which raised my ego.
I took the matter online, posting reviews everywhere I could. The review eventually got to Facebook, where I had some friends comment on the incident. I felt justified. Moments later, the owner replied to me online, calling me “Slimmy.” He meant ‘slimy’ but I have been losing weight and in retrospect he was complimenting me. Jokes aside, this guy didn’t know when to quit insulting his customers, or potential customers, online. He was in danger of having his own Pyrrhic victory, by embarrassing himself on his own Facebook page.
I was amused. I rather enjoyed that he replied the way he did because I thought I had won.
Then came the email from my boss, Dr. Sebastian Mahfood O.P. Now, you need to know that Dr. Mahfood is my role model; I want to be like him in so many ways. A Lay Dominican, a scholar, an educator, an administrator, and most of all: a meek disciple of Christ. Professionally, we always discuss marketing and customer service, and I wanted to use this as a talking point. I didn’t get the response I wanted.
“You might consider letting Grace start to work within that relationship.”
“Slamming (and I mean really slammed) my door and doing what he did is unacceptable. It deserves to be reviewed. Now, I haven’t gone further than a review.”
“Our Dominican way teaches us that if we have a problem with a person, we approach him first. If we cannot resolve that problem, we bring with us two or three others. If we still cannot resolve it, we take it to the Church. The final method is to shun the person. That is, we simply stop dealing with him. Public detraction, though, is not our way.”
He continued, “A social justice principle is that we should use only as much force as necessary. If we use too much force, we lose our status as defender and end up as the aggressor. You have a great deal of power, Shaun. As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Every giant has an obligation to be gentle.”
I told him I immediately disagreed, but I knew that I needed to take his words seriously.
“The part of you that’s disagreeing is called pride” he said.
I realized then and there that I was in danger of my own Pyrrhic victory. Did I really want to harm this person just because he did something I didn’t like? What was the cost? My soul? Was I willing to tear down this person’s reputation over a slammed door? I didn’t get the response I wanted, but I got the one I needed. Dr. Mahfood was right (as usual). In the sense of a Pyrrhic victory I said, “Imagine winning, but winning at toll that negates any sense of achievement or actual profit,” but it made me ponder on the words of Christ:
“For what does a man profit to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
I’ve often talked about “wining the argument, but losing the soul” in apologetics. But this time I was in danger of losing my own soul. By putting every effort into burying this guy, I was really burying my own soul in pride, not allowing for the power of grace to work through me. We can’t pick and choose how we cooperate with God’s grace. It’s selfish of us to keep it to ourselves. Our faith is meant to be shared, not a business card we pull out and dial up when we need it.