Last week I had a spat with one of my customers that ended with them demanding more of a refund than I thought was justified or fair.
I stewed over this conflict for hours over the course of several days. When the returned goods arrived with yet another snotty note and demand for payment, I had to make a decision as to what to do.
Should I give in to an unjust demand, or stand up for myself and only refund what I thought was fair? I was becoming more angry and agitated the more I wrestled with my decision.
I knew that this was not healthy. I tried walking thorough the steps of forgiveness that I understood so well intellectually, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Finally, I realized that there was a difference between what was right, and what was spiritual. The world’s scriptures don’t say to treat fair people with fairness, they say to treat your enemies with kindness; that we should turn the other cheek, not because it is just or fair, but because that is how we change the world.
As I contemplated this idea while still stewing in my anger, I remembered a talk I had given in college about the three spiritual stages we can act from in our dealings with our enemies.
The first is to continue to see a person as an enemy, but be kind to them anyway – first because it is the right thing to do, but second, because doing so will drive them crazy. This is summarized beautifully in this very graphic Proverb:
“If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.” Proverbs 25:21
The second stage is to see mean people as enemies, but to love and pray for them anyway. Jesus says this right after telling us to turn the other cheek.
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44)
That’s pretty darn hard, but there is an even more challenging stage available to us – that of not even seeing people as enemies in the first place.
“Let them see no one as their enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as their friends….” Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 1
In this situation, I knew that I was not yet capable of the third level of spiritual kindness, and wasn’t even feeling the love that I needed for the second. What I could do, however, was to heap coals on this person’s head by being exceedingly kind.
I decided to not only refund the amount that they asked, but to refund 10% MORE than what they had demanded. At least this way, no one could accuse me of being unfair, and I could finally let go of the tug-of-war in my own head about whether I was being unprofessional or not.
There is a Chris Williamson song with a chorus that goes “Gonna KILL them with kindness. Gonna kill them with KINDNESS,” that kept running through my head as I typed in the credit.
So does this count as being spiritual? Could going through the motions, even if I wasn’t feeling loving or kind, count as a spiritual victory? Were the angels smiling, laughing, or shaking their heads in dismay?
Three days later, my wife received a very strange call. The customer who had demanded the refund was on the phone and was very distraught. They didn’t know what had come over them to make them be so rude, and would we please forgive them and let them order from us again in the future? This had been a minor wake-up call that caused this customer to re-think their attitude towards money and service and courtesy.
Now, I have no idea whether this customer even checked their credit card statement to see that I had refunded more than they expected. All I know is that I had decided to follow God’s guidance, even though my heart wasn’t in it, and it had worked a minor miracle.
Don’t get me wrong. I would still LIKE to be able to love people who are mean to me, but between now and then, if all I can do is move from the desire to get revenge to the desire to “kill them with kindness,” then I will take solace in knowing that any movement in the right direction is still good. I may never get this kind of confirmation again, and that’s OK. I got the message. There is a reason why every religion asks us to overcome hate with love and evil with good. No matter what else it does, it puts a little more good into the world.