All of our biological and psychological processes are designed to keep us alive for as long as possible. Our brains, and those of every animal in nature, operate under the premise that death is the absolute worse thing that can happen. Most people, however, face death long before they actually experience it. Our pets pass away. Our loved ones pass away. And we experience myriad threats from people, animals, and natural disasters every time we leave the house. Today, I want to briefly outline what my experience with death threats last year taught me about life.
About a year and a half ago, I worked as a supervisor for housekeeping at the mall. We cleaned the flood court, the carpets, the floors, polished the railings, windows, and play areas, and basically made sure the mall was in peak condition around the clock. One of the new hires there seemed to have a problem with me from the get-go. He didn’t respond when I called him on the radio. He wouldn’t greet me when he walked in the office. I had a mutual friend who told me he thought I and the mall management had something against him. (We didn’t, and everyone there treated him well as far as I could tell.) It was clear to me this guy had a deep-seated issue with authority, no matter how benign or cooperative it was.
One day, upper mall management called me. They said the individual in question had to go home and change his clothes because he was out of dress code. He was wearing a hat that wasn’t allowed; his pants weren’t the right color; and they were sagging. I relayed the message to the man; I told him I had an extra pair of pants in my car he could wear if he didn’t want to go home. The man lost his sh*t as soon as I communicated the message. He started cursing and moving around aggressively. He threatened to come back and kill me and the mall management! My boss called him a little bit later to let him know he had been fired; it was obvious that he had no intention of ever coming back after an angry outburst like that, and he said as much during his explosive rant.
I was already planning on leaving the mall within a few weeks for a better opportunity. What I didn’t know was that day at the mall would be my last. My mutual friend said he talked to the guy on the phone a few hours after he left the mall, and warned me that I should go home and not come back to work there again. I wasn’t going to anyway. This friend, mind you, lived in the same neighborhood as the man, and I knew he had been involved in gang activity years ago. The guy who threatened me himself had been shot and walked with a slight limp to the day. It was obvious to me that a few extra weeks at the mall was not worth the risk, however small, that this individual posed.
Security came and documented the incident that same day, since many people witnessed the outburst and threats to mall management and employees were taken very serious. The police called me the next day and asked me if I wanted to press charges since I was the one he threatened directly. I politely declined.
So what can anyone learn from a seemingly senseless situation like this? I have had a lot of time to think about it and here are my three biggest takeaways.
1. People’s actions have more to do with them than us.
This principle could not have been more obvious. I was polite to this individual since I met him. Never disrespected him. Often asked him how he was doing. I later came to find out that he was having problems at home (big surprise…)
Clearly, this man was suffering, and if life has taught me anything, it is that we should expect little from people who are suffering. Maybe he was bullied growing up or had bad experiences with authority. I know he lived with some degree of physical pain and dysfunction because of the shooting he suffered many years ago. Maybe he viewed the world through the lens of victimhood. I wasn’t that man’s problems, but his displaced rage blinded him to reality. He had become a ticking time bomb waiting to go off at the slightest provocation, real or imagined.
2. The people who know us best tend to see us for who we truly are.
This episode was actually a blessing in disguise. The strong relationships and friendships I built with many people at the mall shone through in the end. Many people inquired about how I was doing and regretted the fact that I had left, including my boss and the head of security at the mall. Even my mutual friend, who knew this guy from childhood, lived in the same neighborhood as him, and commuted with him on the same bus, said he was way out of line. He said if the individual did anything to me, he would personally take action to redress the situation. That felt good to hear.
Months later, on two separate occasions, I got a call from a recruiter and the regional mall manager of housekeeping asking me if I was interested in coming back. I wasn’t. That job was a gig, not a career. It helped me hone my Spanish skills and learn the value of hard work, but it was not a place I had any interest in staying long-term. The fact, however, that people took notice of my work ethic and how I carried myself during my time there meant something to me. To this day, I keep in touch with several people from that job.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.Matthew 5:16
I got word in the following months that two separate shootings had taken place at that same mall (The news articles are live to this day). People messaged me to make sure I was OK. I told them I no longer worked there. As it turned out, the shootings did not involve the individual I had an issue with, but they validated my decision to leave a place that had become a toxic work environment.
3. Who I am should not depend on how others treat me.
The Bible says that “God causes the sun to shine on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Why should we withhold light from others because “they don’t deserve it?” I felt tempted, especially toward the end of my time at the mall, to start matching his negative energy. I didn’t. I admit that a few times I did not greet him when I walked by him because he would just ignore me and look at me funny, but I kept it cordial for the most part. If I lost any sleep over the incident, it wasn’t over how I had treated him.
I posted an article a while back on what I believe is the most beautiful poem ever written, Be Like Balsam, which vividly and eloquently illustrates point #3 above.. Here is a quick snippet of the English translation, along with the original Arabic. Remember, who I am should not depend on how others treat me.
Have you ever received death threats or come face to face with the end of your earthly existence? Tell me about it down below!
For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.