Seeing the other side of anger

A man got hopping mad over a public insult levied at his wife? Couldn't be me. Except it was. On two occasions. Yep. I'm telling the Softy story.

Author’s note: This post was originally published on March 31, 2022. It marked the beginning of a personal re-evaluation of what had been a long-held grudge. I have subsequently reached out to Dave Mahler directly. I consider this grudge to be not only inactive, but in retrospect, dramatically overdone. You can read more about my own conclusions in the most recent newsletter.

MARCH 31, 2022 — A grown man, angered by a public slight directed at his wife, initiated a confrontation and shouted a profanity in anger at what was essentially a work function.

For the record, I never sought to make contact with that Dave “Softy” Mahler guy, though.

Oh you thought I was talking about that thing at the Oscars the other night? Well, I guess I’ve got some thoughts on that, too, but be forewarned that I refuse to take Will Smith’s slap of Chris Rock and subsequent profane hollering as something bigger than it is by which I mean that I refuse to see it as anything more than one man losing it and making a public spectacle of himself.

Because I have some experience with that. A couple of times in fact, and while it was on a much smaller scale and lacking any physical component to the altercation, I am able to understand that as justified as I felt my anger was at the time, it led me to act in way that was not only counterproductive, but pretty embarrassing in retrospect.

Yep. I’m going to do something I never did while I was working at 710 AM in Seattle. At least not to this degree. I’m going to talk about what happened between Mahler and myself on two different occasions. My purpose here isn’t to demonize anyone or to make myself look good. I’m doing it because so far much of the dialogue about “The Slap” has focused on the question of whether Smith had the right to be as mad as he was and that really doesn’t matter as much as everyone seems to think.

Emotions exist regardless of the justification. They are something we feel the same way we would an impulse or an intuition. It just happens. That’s why we say that an emotion is sparked or triggered. We don’t decide to feel a certain way, we just feel it.

It doesn’t matter whether Smith had a right to be mad. The fact is that he was mad. It’s what happened next that’s worth getting into because Smith acted on that anger in really dramatic fashion. He made a scene. Actually, he did more than that. He struck the person he was mad at, then walked back to his seat and shouted profanely at him. Twice.

The question we should be asking is not whether Smith’s actions were warranted — they weren’t — but whether he regrets what he did. Was the payoff he felt from acting on his anger sufficient to offset not just the potential punishment he might face, but the way that incident will follow him and his wife around? I believe he will profoundly regret the way he acted if he doesn’t already, and I say that based in part on my own experience of acting because of how angry I was over a public slight to someone I love.

See, back in 2013 I was in my first year working full-time as a sports-talk host at 710 ESPN Seattle, having moved over from The Seattle Times. My wife, Sharon Pian Chan, was a member of the paper’s editorial board. We met as reporters back in 2000, moved in together in 2003 and were married in 2008. Well, back in 2013 the question of a pro-sports arena was a hot-button issue, and paper’s editorial board was adamantly against the project Chris Hansen was proposing in SoDo and promoting the idea of redeveloping the Seattle Center.

May 9, 2013: Sharon interviewed Chris Hansen and published a Q&A, and later that day, Mahler Tweeted this:

I think I saw Mahler the next day though it may have been a few days after his Tweet. He approached me in the media room at the Seahawks headquarters and stuck out his hand for me to shake it. I did not shake his hand. I expressed my displeasure with what he had done. We stepped outside and argued. He said my wife was a public figure. I called him a “low-rent (something) (something).”1

Later that day: I went to Mahler while he was talking to Hugh Millen and apologized for cursing at him.2

September 2, 2013: My wallet — which fell out of my pocket outside of Husky Stadium after a UW game — was turned in to the post-game radio broadcast on KJR-AM. Mahler texted me to tell me he had my wallet and then returned it to me.3

May 4, 2016: Mahler mentioned my wife on the air. I didn’t hear it. Two different friends of mine told me it happened and like a sucker I went and listened to it.4 It made me really mad.5

June 1, 2016: Mahler and I were both watching a Seahawks offseason practice. As I walked past him, I looked at him and told him to stop talking about my wife. We argued.6 I made the lamest threat in the history of threats.7 We argued until my supervisor came out and told me I needed to come inside for a meeting with my co-workers. After that meeting, I apologized to Mahler for making the really lame threat.

That afternoon, Mahler spent a significant chunk of his afternoon show discussing not just what I said to him on the hill at the Seahawks headquarters, but chronicled the previous history between us. Once I heard that had happened, I knew I’d messed up. I didn’t want to engage in a public back and forth. It was the whole reason I was mad, and yet my anger had led me to create an even bigger spectacle

Was I wrong to be mad? I don’t think so. On a personal level, Mahler criticized my wife, not her work. He didn’t say her argument was dumb, he said she was dumb. I believe he criticized her because she was married to me, and while that’s entirely my opinion, I would point to the fact he didn’t target other members of The Seattle Times editorial board personally in the same way he did my wife.

On a professional level, he targeted my wife online and drew a reaction from people pointing out it was my spouse. Then, when I tried to tell him he was crossing a line that I did not want crossed, he turned me and my reaction into content for his show.

Was my reaction appropriate? The first time, when I cursed at him, was a little over the top. The second time was absolutely over the top and more than the situation warranted. Part of the reason I reacted so strongly is because of how I feel about my wife. Part of it was because she was attacked personally by someone I not only knew, but whom I felt was doing so to goad me. Some of it was because of my own life experience and my inability to stand up for my mother and younger siblings, which has absolutely nothing to do with Mahler nor is it something he could have known about. Throw my ego in there, too. I felt challenged because someone I knew was insulting my wife. All of these things played a role to trigger a strong emotional response.

But debating the justification for my emotions and my actions doesn’t matter nearly as much as how I ended up feeling about the way I acted on those emotions as well as the real-world results that my actions led to.

Was my reaction effective? Absolutely, unequivocally not. My reaction generated more conversation, which led to more criticism not just of my wife and her professional opinions, but of me, my credibility and my masculinity. It was truly ironic in that sense. My desire to halt the inclusion of my wife in sports-radio banter about me resulted in more mentions of my wife in sports-radio banter about me.

I had no one to blame but myself for that one. I opened that box up when I opened my mouth and got all tough-talking and righteous. I opened the door to the amplification and distortion of the whole episode. I regretted that almost immediately, and I’m embarrassed by it now, but I wasn’t always.

For a while after the incident in 2016, I said that the day I was no longer working in radio in Seattle I would go and challenge Mahler to a fist fight. The fact I even said this is something that is deeply stupid for many reasons:

  1. I haven’t been in an actual knock-down fist-fight since grade school, and the idea of doing so in my 40s is ridiculous not to mention the possibility I might wind up losing any such fight.

  2. I wouldn’t have been acting in self-defense or to prevent further harm to someone. It would have been some Old Testament approach that is completely out of touch with the reality that violence is not something I ever seek to make a part of my approach to life.

  3. Initiating a fight was unlikely to provide the satisfaction that I hoped for. Say we did agree to fight. Say I did win and suffered no professional or personal repercussions. Was I really going to feel good about what had happened? I mean, I regretted cursing at Mahler in 2013 to the point I apologized that day. I regretted that lame threat to him in 2016 to the point that I apologized to him that day. I’m going to go ahead and take a guess that I would feel even worse about myself had I actually instigated a fight.

I regret how I reacted to Mahler in 2013 and 2016. I regret it from a practical standpoint as my actions led more people to know, discuss and analyze what happened. To this day, people reference it on social media even though — as I said — I’ve never fully talked about it in public.

I regret it on a personal level, too. Acting on my anger the way I did only made me more angry and consider even more aggressive actions. Instead of providing satisfaction, it led to escalation.

I learned from it, though. And after Mahler spent his shown in June 2016 talking about it, I recognized how my actions had only made my own situation worse. That I couldn’t control the way this professional peer was going to talk about me, all I could control was how I interacted with him so I stopped doing that as much as I could. I did not speak to him. I did not talk about him either online or during my show in any depth. I didn’t try to tell my side of the story, and for the next 3 years I did not speak to him and went so far as to avoid eye contact with him.

Then, in August 2019, he apologized to me. He did this while we watched a Seahawks practice. At that point, everyone knew I was moving to New York because my wife had taken a job with the New York Times. He mentioned he didn’t know what would happen with me going forward, and he wanted to apologize. He stuck out his hand. I gave him what I would describe as a tepid handshake and said, “OK.”

I accepted his apology. I respect it. I don’t feel he owes me or my wife anything, and I’ve learned that acting on anger not only won’t solve the issues that aggravate me, but is likely will make everything worse. Sometimes the best reaction is none at all. I wish I had learned that earlier in my life, but I’m glad I know it now.

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