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In the Back to the Future trilogy, Marty McFly, played by a young Michael J. Fox, experiences a momentary lapse of reason every time someone calls him “chicken.” Examples of his dubious judgment include defrauding his employer, engaging in fisticuffs with larger opponents, and agreeing to a sunrise shootout with a crazed gunslinger in the Old West.

Like Marty, we can be drawn into conflict with people who have been empowered by a secret knowledge of our trigger word or phrase. For Marty, it was “chicken,” for you it may be “insensitive,” “unfair,” or “incompetent.” When uttered, these words lead to lapses in judgment and control because, like Marty, we too exist in three different dimensions simultaneously: the past, the present, and the future. We are constantly torn between our responsibility for the past, our obligation to the present, and our hope in the future.

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