Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On Not Being A Bully


Philosopher Alan Watts once wrote that what we despise in others is often what we most fear in ourselves.

I despise bullies. I always have. Preying on those weaker than you is contemptible.

So does that mean I fear my own potential to be a bully? Maybe. After all, I am bigger than many people. But if I do have an inner bully, I keep him well in check.

To illustrate, here are a couple of examples...

Honolulu lion dance.
I was watching lion dances on the streets of Honolulu's Chinatown. It was the middle of the afternoon, and hundreds of people were there enjoying the festivities. As I was standing there watching, a middle-aged homeless man came up to me. Obviously drunk, he decided to try to strike up a conversation with me. He wasn't particularly coherent. I tried to gracefully extricate myself from the situation by smiling, shaking my head, and saying  je ne parle pas anglais (French for "I don't speak English.") I walked away. He followed. I continued to be polite, and continued speaking in French.

The homeless man got irritated. He called me stuck-up and proceeded to kick my butt, literally. He did some sort of sad attempt at a roundhouse kick and kicked me in the rear.

When telling this story to other martial artists, someone inevitably asks, "What did you do? Did you fight back?"

No, I didn't "fight back." I again walked away. The homeless man apparently lost interest in me and wandered off.

Why didn't I "fight back”? Against what? At that point, I didn't feel legitimately threatened. I was prepared if the homeless man escalated by doing something like drawing a weapon or really attacking me, but I saw no reason to respond to his inept kick with a counterattack. What would be gained by beating up a middle-aged, drunken homeless man? Doing so would have made me a bully.

The real Patton Oswalt.
Another incident happened right outside my house. It was early in the morning, right at the crack of dawn. I was sound asleep in my bed. I was rudely awakened by the sounds of a couple loudly arguing on the sidewalk in front of my house. I waited for them to leave. They didn’t. I started to get angry. I threw on some clothes and went outside. I saw a chubby guy who looked a lot like Patton Oswalt berating his girlfriend. Something in me snapped.

“Hey!” I shouted. “Shut the fuck up!”

The guy started walking to me, and I started walking towards him. We stopped just a couple of feet away from each other. He looked up at me (I was at least seven or eight inches taller) and started telling me I couldn’t talk to him like that and how this was a public sidewalk and so on and so on. We started to go back and forth verbally, things getting more and more heated.

I could feel myself getting angrier, but then I paused a bit. I recollected myself. Where was this going? What was I going to do? Does this guy really want to fight me? If so, he probably wouldn’t come out ahead in the confrontation. I think his girlfriend knew this, as she looked worried.

So I deescalated the situation and backed down.

“I’m sorry for swearing at you,” I said. “It’s just early in the morning and you woke me up. This is a quiet neighborhood. Please keep it down.”

Satisfied, and with his pride in tact, faux Oswalt and his girlfriend walked off. Quietly, I should add.
Being gentle with a kitty.

My apology wasn’t merely an attempt to calm things down. I was truly sorry I yelled and swore as this man, despite how irritating he was. I was wrong. I should have approached him calmly and reasonably, if at all. By yelling and swearing at someone smaller and weaker than myself, I was being a bully. It would have been even worse if things had gotten physical. I started off angry at a stranger, and ended up angry at myself.

I keep stories like this in the back of my mind to keep me on the right track in life.  The name of this blog has many meanings, but one aspect of the word “gent” is being gentle. And being gentle means not being a bully.

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