I’ve had the opportunity to learn from fabulous teachers in my lifetime, and ranked amongst them is Sam, a 6’2” convicted murderer.

A couple of decades ago, when I was a probation officer, Sam was one of my parolees. It was my job to ensure he abided by the conditions of his parole license which were intended to reduce the risk of a repeat offense.

Overseeing Sam was not an easy task. Like many who’ve had a rough start in life, he’d learned to cover up his fears and insecurities with false bravado. He was hostile towards anyone in a position of authority. So naturally, although petite and only 5’4”, from his perspective, I was not to be trusted.

Yet, Sam wanted his freedom. He wanted to make his way in the world, which meant meeting with me twice a month. And so it was that we began a rather precarious relationship. One false move on my part, and I would become the target of Sam’s anger and rage. One false move on Sam’s part and he risked ending up behind locked doors.

Long story short, we learned to work together very well. Three years later, when I was relocated, and it was time to say good bye, Sam made a point of saying “at least you didn’t pretend to like me”. It was his way of thanking me.

Sadly, previous authority figures had frequently been intimidated by Sam’s menacing attitude, and, in an attempt to appease him, had given in to his demands rather than standing for a relationship of mutual respect.

I didn’t seek Sam’s approval. Even though this meant feeling vulnerable to his disapproval and anger. Instead, I was clear about what I expected of him and the parameters of our relationship. I focused on seeing through his armor to what was deeper.

Although Sam was ill equipped to touch into his own inner world, the fact that I maintained steadily anchored in mine, willing to stand in fear and not be deterred, Sam slowly learned it was safe to be himself. Gradually, he became a willing partner in our work.

I learned many things from Sam; how all human beings seek to be seen and loved, how the most hardened exterior cannot shield inner tenderness. But, the clearest lesson Sam granted is the power that lies in being vulnerable.

By not bending to Sam’s power displays, but choosing to respect him and expecting the same in return, I became empowered to help him, and he learned to honor and express his needs in constructive ways.

When and where are you choosing to be vulnerable and authentic, rather than please others? How is it going? Come share in the comments below.

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