Love & Wisdom
The Grind Of A Grudge
MOVING PAST ANGER AND LETTING GO OF TOXIC ENERGY
By Danny O’Neil October 4, 2023
I was watching a Seahawks practice when the man I’d shunned for three years offered me an apology.
“I’m sorry,” said Dave Mahler. You might know him as Softy. He hosts the afternoon sports-talk show at KJR 93.3 FM. “I was wrong, and I shouldn’t have said what I did.”
He then offered me his hand.
“OK,” I said, and while I shook his hand, I offered more of a dead fish than a hearty shake.
I wasn’t ready to let go of my anger toward him. Not yet, and that says more about me than him. I hold grudges to the point I’ll spend years sharpening their edges. I’ve been this way since my early 20s, and it’s only now — in my late 40s — that I’m realizing the difficulty this creates in moving through life. Turns out that anger is a particularly sticky emotion for me, and I was convinced I had a right to be mad at the Soft one.
I had first gotten to know him when I was a newspaper reporter, covering the Sonics and later the Seahawks. I’d even appeared on his show a few times. In 2013, I took a full-time job at 710 AM, the other Seattle sports-radio station. Shortly after I did this, Softy tweeted a particularly pointed response to the author of a Seattle Times editorial on a proposed basketball arena in SoDo.
“Is Sharon Pian Chan an imbecile?” he typed. “Genuinely curious. If she’s playing from a disadvantage, I’ll pull back in my criticism.”
Sharon is my spouse, which Dave knew, and his comment wasn’t about what she’d written. It was about her. I didn’t respond or acknowledge it in any way.
The following week, I was in the media room at Seahawks headquarters when Softy walked in, and he greeted me, sticking out his hand for me to shake it. I did not shake his hand. I said I wasn’t going to pretend I was OK with him after what he’d tweeted. He asked if I wanted to step outside and talk, and we did step outside but I wasn’t talking for very long before I raised my voice. He said my wife was a public figure. I called him a “low-rent (something) (something).” You know, real high-level discussion.
The following September, I was leaving Husky Stadium after a night game when I got a text message from Mahler. He was hosting the post-game show for his station, and someone had turned in my wallet, which I didn’t realize had fallen out of my pocket. I came back to get my wallet, feeling pretty sheepish about how mad I’d been. I thanked him for reaching out to me, and for the next couple of years I was more cordial to him.
In 2016, The Seattle Times published a story on Softy, which included a line that said Mahler had personally criticized Times employees. The day the story ran, he questioned whether he had actually done that during his radio show. When his producer made a reference toward me and my wife, Mahler argued I had already moved from the newspaper, failing to acknowledge the way he had singled out my wife.
Now, I didn’t hear this whole thing, but two different people told me it happened and like a sucker, I went and listened to it and got angry all over again. I’m not sure why it made me as mad as it did. Maybe because I thought it proved his criticism wasn’t about my wife or her work, but was instead an attempt to antagonize me. Maybe it was because I felt he was failing to own up to what he had done. Or maybe I was just angry because he knew I didn’t appreciate him talking about my wife, and here he was doing it again.
I saw Softy less than a month later at a Seahawks practice, and as I walked by him, I looked him in the eyes and told him to stop mentioning my wife during his show. An argument ensued on the small hill that is located east of the practice fields. At one point, I felt Mahler was trying to position himself higher on the hill so he could look down on me. I took a step up the hill to try to get on even footing. Yes, it’s just as stupid and immature as it sounds. Dave Wyman, a coworker of mine, took a picture of us.
At one point in the argument, I said sternly, “You need to stop talking about my wife.”
“Or what?” he asked.
“Or something is going to happen to you.” (Full cringe.)
That afternoon, Dave spent a significant chunk of his afternoon radio show chronicling the history between us. I had no one to blame but myself for that. I’d opened that box up by getting all tough-talking and righteous.
I didn’t talk to Softy for the next three years. When we crossed paths at sporting events, I made a point to avoid eye contact. I even told some coworkers I would challenge Mahler to a fist fight once I was no longer working at 710 ESPN Seattle, a threat both immature and potentially ill-advised. Not sure I’d be the betting favorite in a bout.
Was I right to be angry? Sure. He said something crummy about the person I love most in this world, and I thought he did it to goad me. After he provoked a reaction, he talked about it as part of his show. It makes sense that I stopped interacting with him.
But I didn’t just set a boundary. I stayed furious to the point that my anger became an end unto itself. I was mad because I felt I had a right to be mad, and it wasn’t until well after he’d apologized to me in August 2019 that I asked myself the most important question: What was the point of staying mad at this man?
Well, it was my pride, mostly. Giving up my resentment would require me to step down from this little pedestal of righteousness I’d constructed. It would also require me to accept that the episode was over, that there would be no further payback or reckoning. I wanted him to regret it, but he’d already said he did. Still, I felt like fully embracing his apology would be like letting him off the hook.
There was a cost to this approach, though. I remained stuck on what he had said and what he’d done. My refusal to let go kept me tethered to this particularly unpleasant chapter of my life, and once I realized this, I could finally see who this grudge was hurting most: me. I was the one who kept thinking about this, replaying what had happened to refresh my anger and then imagining ways I might achieve some sort of payback. I was the one who was continuing to suffer because I wouldn’t stop reliving the past.
When Dave’s father was sick last year, I expressed my best wishes to him on Twitter. I also got his phone number and sent him a message. When his Dad later died, I called to express my condolences. We’ve texted since then.
I stayed furious to the point that my anger became an end unto itself. I was mad because I felt I had a right to be mad. What was the point?
I’m not saying all this so I look better or appear magnanimous. I don’t feel I was the bigger person in this situation. I feel small for how long it took me to accept the apology fully and truly, but once I did, it provided a freedom and a relief I never expected, and that’s something worth sharing. Now I’m the one who’s sorry.
I’m sorry I cursed at him. I’m sorry I started an argument with him. I’m sorry I didn’t accept his initial apology more heartily. I’m sorry not just because of what this did to him; I’m sorry because of what it did to me.