No, it ain’t.

There are some posts flying around where self-defence instructors advocate for letting bullying take its course as the best (or only) solution to the issue. As far as I can understand, these posts are predicated on a syllogism:

  1. Bullying is only, solely, and uniquely a form of social violence, i.e. a monkey dance.
  2. Monkey dances are structured in a way that makes them self-limiting, hence inherently safe.
  3. Hence bullying, if allowed to take its proper course, is self-limiting, hence inherently safe.

The proponents of this theory then go on to suggest that the proper course of action is to teach kids how to engage in/with bullying, and that all bullying-related problems stem from the fact that kids are prevented from learning the “rules of violence.” Which sounds like a nice, epic statement, but is actually a crock of shit.

The basic problem with this line of reasoning is none of the premises are accurate.

The first premise contains two major holes. The first one is that social violence can take many forms, and the monkey dance is only one of them. The two terms are nowhere near equivalent, and cannot be used interchangeably. The second one is that a quick check of the dictionary informs us that bullying means “using superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something.” That is not the definition of a monkey dance. It’s not even close.

A monkey dance is a type of duel – a mutual context for the purpose of gaining or maintaining social worth. If my friend Dillon, who is three times my size and trained in all the martial arts, forced me to fight him, there’s no way in hell that his goal would be to prove himself in front of our peers. People who can bicep-curl my weight do not need to throw down to prove that they are stronger than me. The resulting physical confrontation wouldn’t be a duel: it’d be a stomping. It may be a form of social violence between Dillon and his friends, to be sure, but it wouldn’t be a monkey dance between the two of us. If we were looking for a parallel in adult life, I’d look under “assault.” If the relationship was ongoing, I’d check out “abuse.”

The second premise conflates “self-limiting” (i.e., the fighting stops as soon as one of the fighter stops) with “safe.” Monkey dances are a damn sight safer than assaults, no doubt, but they are not inherently safe. People can take a lucky punch, fall over, smack their heads on the curb, and change their lives forever, or end them. While this is a statistical unlikelihood, it is a possibility. It is not entirely unreasonable for people responsible for (or invested in) the survival of minors to want to avoid that risk. Schools cannot just let kids “fight it out” any more than jails can, for the simple reason that they are tasked with keeping their charges safe and sound.

When you combine the risks inherent in any physical confrontation with the strength imbalance inherent in bullying dynamics, things can get really dangerous really fast. It would be easy for Dillon to subdue me without damaging me, but if he didn’t want to damage me in some way, why would he have engineered the confrontation? On the other hand, it would be incredibly difficult for me to prevail upon Dillon without damaging him. Seriously, the safest way I could win that game would be to take him out. In the parking lot. The day before we were due to meet. And to take my friends along in order to do so.

I can’t even be bothered arguing with the conclusion. A syllogism is only ever as good as its premises. As these do not hold water, the syllogism is worthless.

It isn’t, however, useless. On the contrary, it is incredibly useful: it tells us a lot about the people pushing it. I can see two main possibility:

  1. They are lying to suit their purposes, or;
  2. They are genuinely clueless.

I am struggling to decide which option I find most repugnant. Being willing to peddle advice that could severely harm children for profit is hardly admirable, but being that oblivious to the realities of bullying requires serious dedication, or a genuine inability to hear victims’ voices. I have serious reservations as to whether either of these is an attribute suited to a self-defence instructors.

State of emergency

Recent events have helped me rediscover an old truth: I am a good person to have around during emergencies. Throw an emergency at me, and I actually do better than a lot of people – and I don’t say this about anything else. Generally, I’m really not that great at… anything, honestly. Most people I know are better than me at most things. Emergencies, though, put me ahead of the pack. I’m not saying that there are no emergencies I’ll shit myself in front of, but, up to now, my past records suggest that my freeze is comparatively short, I can think (mostly) rationally throughout, and I generally get shit done. It’s most likely because I’m a coward, and my immediate response to fear is to charge towards it, but it works. Kinda.

Give me an emergency or upheaval, and in under a half hour I will have not only dealt with any immediate needs, but I will have come up with at least 12 different contingency plans, graded them in terms of their effectiveness, desirability, and associated risks, and started to work towards at least two of them. It’s not something I have to make myself do: it’s my natural response to this kind of thing. It would be harder for me not to do it. If couldn’t get up and going, I’d probably drown in my own anxiety. I’m someone who gets shit done. Faced with an emergency, no matter how I feel, I carry on getting shit done.

Therein lies the rub. No matter how I feel, I carry on getting shit done. That attribute isn’t something that activates in case of emergencies: it’s there all the time. And, while it’s a freakin’ superpower during emergencies, it’s a humongous liability in everyday life.

I carry on getting shit done regardless of how I feel. That is not a good way to live. It’s a great way to survive, but it can never take you past that point, into thriving. Yes, it can help you survive up to the point where you have the opportunity to thrive (which, if you perish earlier on, won’t ever happen). But unless you can turn it off, unless you can allow yourself to respect your own feelings, which are reflections of your needs, you won’t ever thrive, regardless of how auspicious your circumstances are.

I can look at my history and plot exactly where, when, and how I learnt to do this. It’s a story so freakin’ common that it’s a trope. I grew up in a state of emergency, surrounded by grown-ups who couldn’t cope with their own shit and wouldn’t help me cope with mine. I was put under too much pressure at too young an age. I was constantly overwhelmed and constantly insecure, unable to rely on my caregivers or on myself. We were all equally incompetent, for different reasons.

If I crumbled every time something made me feel overwhelmed, I would have spent my entire life in a heap. Not only that wouldn’t have helped me get out of the shit, but it would have also encouraged those around me to give me a good kicking. Weakness, of any kind, was a target on your back. Show that you’re hurting, and they’ll hurt you worse. Show that you have a vulnerability, and that’s where they’ll hit you. The solution was simple: bury all those feelings, and charge on ahead. Do what needs to be done, no matter how you feel about it.

I occasionally speak to self-defence experts and they tell me how wonderful this is – not because childhood trauma is a desirable formative experience, but because of how I’ve “transcended” it. I could have been mangled by my experiences, and instead I’ve turned into someone who, when thrown against the ropes, uses that momentum to launch themselves forward. I get what they’re trying to say, but I think they’re missing a point: being good at emergencies is making me bad at life, and I want to live. That takes a completely different set of beliefs, priorities, attitudes, skills… and I’ve never developed those. Not yet, anyway. That’s my next project.

The funny thing is… If I treat it like a fucking emergency, I know, I actually know, that I will get through it.

Babosología

Aaaaaaand we’re up!

On the Kindle and as a paperback. In Spanish, no thanks to my language skills.

(It was really interesting for me to learn that one of the Spanish equivalents of “creep”, which has largely reptilian connotation, is “baboso,” i.e. slug. Sticky, slimy, and extremely appropriate, I think.)

 

Turtles all the way down.

Things are still manic around here, so I’m going to leave you with a priceless bit of wisdom:

When you drag yourself out of a rut, things are gonna be bumpy for a while.

 

(If you think that’s an obvious truism, just think about how common it is for people to stick a toe out of their comfort zone, feel uncomfortable, and take that as an indication that the whole thing was a terrible mistake and they should retract all digits with immediate effect and never stick them out again.)

Fears.

The last six months have been… interesting, in the Chinese curse meaning of the word. Life has been peppered with events that have given me the opportunity to taste fear.

I am a fearful person. I often get told I’m not. People who don’t know me have a tendency to think I’m brave, or at least to say that they do. I state that I’m not brave clearly, loudly, and often, but it generally gets ignored. I have a tendency to move towards what scares me, but it isn’t out of bravery. It’s normally one of three reasons:

  1. I’m too fucking chickenshit to let it be. I cannot live with monsters in my closet, so I will pick up a poker and a flashlight and go seek them out.
  2. I know from the onset that I will probably lose and probably get fucked up, so there’s no point in worrying about that. But I’ll be fucking damned if I don’t make it expensive for the bastards. If I’m going to go, I’m going to cause as much damage as I can on the way out, because fuck them.
  3. I care less about me than I care about something else. Standing up for something or somebody may get me trounced, but I care about that something or somebody more than I do about myself, so I charge forth. (Note: having nothing to lose is liberating, but when that “nothing” is yourself, your well-being, your survival… not healthy.)

In the last few months, I’ve not had a chance to do anything about the events that have summoned my fears; they have been outside of my control, things that happened to or around me regardless of any steps I could take. I was too small a cog to affect the machinery. I couldn’t do anything about the events, so I found myself charging towards something else instead: the source of my fear. It is an accepted dogma in modern pop psychology that anger isn’t a primary emotion: it’s what you feel when you don’t want to feel what you really feel. I find that that idea gets misused and crowbarred into a variety of inappropriate situations, which is an issue. My other issue with it is that I have no idea why we don’t try and do the same with other emotions, and fear in particular.

I think very few fears are inherently there, inevitably ours. The fear of falling, some weird phobias we seem to be born with, those may be there, in our bones, installed as factory standards. Much of the rest of our fears, though, seems to me to be the result of a combination of experiences and thoughts or expectations. I raise a fist towards my puppy, and he isn’t frightened: he has never been punched, so he hasn’t learnt to associate a raised fist with pain, so he feels no fear. On the contrary, he thinks we’re going to play. I raise a fist towards other dogs, who have been hit, and their reaction is completely different. The way they respond will depend on the strategy they have developed to avoid that pain. Will they attack or cower?

I am one of those dogs. It just so happens that the way my fear manifests in the world makes me looks a lot like freakin’ Despereaux going off to be a knight, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of the fear on my mental landscape. So, in my fear-induced quest to vanquish my fears, I have tried to find their source. It’s a work in progress. The results have been interesting.*

Why am I afraid? The most obvious answer is “past experiences”: you get hit, you get hurt, you learn that getting hit hurts, so you’re afraid of getting hit again. That is a simplification, though, and it ignores a variety of other factors. You could get hit and block or evade. What do you learn then? Your interpretation of your experience will inform that lesson, probably more than the events do. At one extreme, you could learn that you are capable of avoiding a hit, that you can deal, which could lessen your fear of future hits, including those you can’t possibly block. At another extreme, you could learn that people are dangerous and should be avoided just in case. What your experience teaches you will depend on how your head is already wired, on what you believe about yourself, on how you have learnt to tell your own story.

No experience I’ve coped with has taught me that I can cope. Not a single one of them. I have never overcome something and felt victorious, or even capable. It’s always been a toss-up between calling myself lucky, stupid, or both. The events outside of my control that came at me didn’t kill me, but they didn’t make me stronger: they made me realise how weak I am, how perilous the world is, how easily things could have gone another way. The mistakes I made in the past and gotten over taught me that I am a person who makes mistakes, hence a person whose decision-making abilities can’t be trusted; not a person who gets over things. I have never looked at a future challenge and shrugged it off because I’ve already overcome far greater ones. I think of myself as incapable of not only of coping, but of learning to cope or to avoid situations in which I have to cope.

I am scared of what has already happened, because if it happened once then it can happen again. I am scared of what nearly happened, because I know how lucky I was to have escaped it the first time. I am scared of what might happen, because I don’t trust myself to be able to deal with it. I am scared all the time, regardless of how I prove myself to myself, of how much I grow, of how much I learn. And, if I carry on thinking of myself as I do now, I will live with fear forever.

I don’t want to. It’s not the choice I’d make for anyone else, so I won’t make it for myself. Now the issue is: how do I go about unfucking all this?

I could try and reverse-engineer those thoughts to their origin, to travel back to the “source of my trauma” (sorry, but my life just hasn’t been epic enough for me to be able to use those words without inverted commas). At first glance, the most obvious answer is “I grew up in a state of emergency, surrounded by adults who couldn’t cope and wouldn’t help me cope.”

Another strategy, the strategy I’m currently preferring because I’m hoping that it will offer me a shortcut, is to address my beliefs about myself directly. They are not rational and they are not visible, so I’m trying to spot them by looking at the stories I tell myself about my own life, then changing the main character. Would I tell the story the same way if instead of me going through X it was anyone else? If I interpret my own life in a radically different manner, that’s a thing I need to be aware of. The awareness, in and of itself, may do something.

 

*Aside: the last fiction I published was about Alya. She is a bundle of managed fears, a collection of scars, and the most autobiographical character I’ve ever written. She is more than just an aspect of me: she’s basically me. And I can’t stand her. Finding that out was also very interesting.

 

 

News

So, I missed blogging last Monday for the first time. (Did you miss me? No? Hmpf.) A large lump of brown stuff hit a rotating implement with a resounding thud, and chunks are still flying all over the place. Said brown shower is likely to persist for a wee while yet, so bear with me. Or not. I’m not your supervisor.

In more positive news, this is happening:

‘Tis the Spanish version of the “Creepology” book. I have a whole bunch of very, very clever friends, and one of them translated it. It’s currently available for pre-order on the Kindle, publication date being the 6th of April. The paperback version should be available on the same date, but pre-order isn’t an option. If you know of any Spanish-speaking persons or institutions who may be interested, please shove the link directly under their nose.