“The Last Supper” is a tradition in my police platoon, taking place the night before the most senior member’s discharge. On this special evening, fellow officers come together to express their unfiltered sentiments to the departing member. They do so without the constraints of rank, creating a rare atmosphere of honesty. The most senior member, now stripped of his authority, listens attentively, with no room for defense or rebuttal. It was on such an occasion that I was confronted with a shocking revelation from Joon.
Joon was a junior of mine who entered the police just a couple of months after me. He and I endured the tumultuous impeachment period in South Korea, where millions took to the streets to protest. Every protest was long and harsh, so I really valued hard times we experienced and overcame together as a team. Later, due to health issues, Joon transferred to the administrative department. I could not see him too often after that, but he returned to the platoon to partake in my Last Supper and deliver a startling confession.
“Jungbin hyung (brother),” Joon began, “you cannot fathom the pain I endured as your junior. When I informed you of my decision to transfer to the admin team, your disappointment and anger were palpable. You became cold toward me, and the rest of the platoon followed suit, leaving me isolated. My last month with your platoon felt like a daily ordeal. I expected understanding and a warm farewell, considering my health at the time. But, I overestimated you as a person. To me, you became a bully and a demon. I want you to know that.”
I was genuinely taken aback. Joon and I had seemed to maintain a good relationship even after his transfer, or so I thought. In reality, my reaction to his decision had deeply wounded him. My emotional response, born out of the belief that I had lost a cherished comrade to another team, had been an unintended act of cruelty. Most importantly, Joon had carried this burden of hurt in silence for nearly a year.
The revelation hit me so hard that I found myself in the emergency room the following day, suffering from severe stomach pain brought on by stress, a common ailment for me under such circumstances.
After my return from the ER, I decided to visit Joon. I knocked on his door and asked for a conversation, to which he graciously agreed. In his room, I sincerely apologized.
“Joon, I am deeply sorry for my harshness towards you. I held you in high regard, and my disappointment stemmed from losing a valued team member. As you rightly said, you did nothing wrong. It was my failing.”
What happened next was both eye-opening and transformative, the very reason I am sharing this experience. Joon’s response was unexpected.
“I am genuinely surprised by your apology,” he said. “I was nervous that you might seek retribution for my candid remarks from the previous night. I never expected you to apologize.”
My shock was even greater. How had I been perceived by Joon all this time? I realized that, in his eyes, I had become an intimidating monster, one that caused pain and suffering without remorse. To him, I was a villain who would not only refuse to apologize but would also perpetuate the bullying. He had exposed my wrongdoing during the Last Supper, using all his courage to rid himself of the demon named Jungbin.
This experience made me keenly aware of how our brains react to conflicts with others. The wrongdoer is often vilified to the point of extreme horror and disgust. However, in reality, the person who caused the pain may be more than willing to listen and offer a heartfelt apology.
I made a conscious decision to internalize Joon’s story into my life. I became more cautious about harboring resentment. Hatred only leads to stress, which ultimately causes pain. It is a waste of emotional energy when the person responsible is genuinely ready to apologize. Joon endured a year of suffering, but he could have avoided it by reaching out and expressing his grievances. I did not want to repeat his mistake.
My recommendation is this: when you find yourself in conflict with someone and start to resent them, take a few days to cool down. Then, reengage with them, asking for an apology. Surprisingly, they may empathize with your pain and provide the apology you desire. You might even become good friends again. Joon and I reunited this year when I visited Korea in September, and our friendship has grown stronger. I hope this approach can help more people mend broken relationships and build bridges of understanding.