Archive for September, 2012

A Fine Line between Tough and Stupid
30 September, 2012

I have never considered myself a particularly tough person. Certainly part of that comes from the messages I was given as a youth. It was in the adults’ best interest for me to cast the damage to me from their abuse and neglect as a failing on my part. Like many of the faulty and disabling messages of my youth, I accepted this as a truth.

Whilst in high school I played gridiron football, in college I discovered rugby union. One of its appeals for me is the purity of its physicality. Unhindered (some may say unprotected) by padding, there is a directness to the opposition between teams. I thankfully never suffered a serious injury but I had my share of bruising. Craig Ferguson calls rugby “an outdoor bar fight” but I only saw punches thrown once. So some might find it false modesty for me to say that I am not a particularly tough person.

I do not consider myself tough simply based on the fact that I frequently feel pain and it can stop me from doing what I want to do. The days in which my physical training is impacted by an injury now outweigh the days in which it is not. It is impossible for one person to know how something feels to another and perhaps I am using too high of a standard. But it seems to me like a lot of other folk are either less susceptible to pain or better able to withstand it. It makes logical sense to me that as a highly sensitive person I would be less tough than the average.

I do, however, consider myself a particularly stubborn person. Not universally, but I am certainly susceptible to digging in my heels, even when it is neither the wisest nor most strategic option. From a certain angle, perhaps one could say that I exhibit a certain resilience. But my experience is more like a compulsion to keep inching toward daylight. So perhaps there is a refusal to yield that looks like toughness. More likely I am just too stupid to know when to quit.

24 September, 2012

A full suit of armor is an evocative image for me. Was it economically, and socially, feasible, I could see myself wearing body armor full-time, not because I take incoming fire but because the physical protection induces feelings of psychological protection. (If only there was a trauma plate for one’s childhood…) Like physical armor, psychological armor can limit your speed, flexibility, and perception.

To push the analogy to mechanized armor, my primary armor is a reactive one: humor. To a certain extent there must have been some funny in me at birth. But I learned that keeping them laughing was the surest protection. Being a relatively quick thinker and moderately perceptive, it was the easiest way for me to exert some control over the situation and steer clear of the chaos. Of course, it did not always work, which is probably why I like physical armor. Plus, humor provided some insulation from the more normal vicissitudes of childhood.

I have come to realize that I have more layers of armor beyond the shield of laughter. I know I experience emotions at least as deeply as others and I feel like I am showing them. But the overwhelming evidence is that others often have no idea what I am feeling. Part of it is being explicitly raised to show no emotion at all. (I am not kidding: I was repeatedly scolded and punished for showing emotion.) Part of it is that growing up in an environment without emotion recalibrated my emotional sensors. I still work to be comfortable with large displays of emotion; comic understatement seems like shouting to me.

To a certain extent I am comfortable with being armored with others. What is more distressing is the worry that I have sealed off emotions from myself. At times I feel like I can not trust my own assessment of my emotions. Am I really copacetic? Or is it just a facade, wishful thinking on my part? Yet relying on others to tell me what I am feeling is unhealthy. Perhaps I will never be comfortable enough to take off all my armor, even with myself.

Stand for Something
8 September, 2012

Whilst I pride myself on my comic understatement, it would push the bounds of minimization to say that I was unlike my peers in high school. The contrast was on many levels: intellectual, religious, socioeconomic, phenotypic, et cetera. During history class we were discussing the impressment of sailors that precipitated the War of 1812. The teacher inquired of the class what the fledgling country ought to have done. He asked me, the lone hawk in the class, why I favored fighting back. I said, “Better to die an honorable death than to live a dishonorable life.” (It made such an impression on him that after class he asked me to promise to come see him in ten years, a promise I have sadly not fulfilled.) I would like to think that I saw the symmetry with life/death and honor/dishonor, but most likely I was unknowingly paraphrasing Honesta mors turpi vita potior (An honorable death is better than a dishonorable life) from Tacitus.

It is easy to talk about doing the right thing when just talking. But one’s mettle is truly tested when there is personal loss at stake. There are some tasks, like defending children from predators, which one must shoulder, even when one has no idea what to do, even when there is absolutely no chance of success. Excuses like “What are we supposed to do?” are intolerable. If nothing else, stand up and take the hit. Better to be on the ground from having stood up and been knocked down than from cowering.

Ohana has always been important to me. I lost my father too early to untangle how much of that comes from that loss and how much was already a part of me. Despite, or perhaps because of, feeling little of it from my family of origin, I kept chasing the family that I wanted. It could be argued that I had little to lose given the tragic events of my childhood, but I prized the pittance I had. Yet I risked and lost that because I refused to be yet another abettor.

The full price remains to be calculated. Both victims and perpetrators still consider me a thoughtless agitator who should have left well enough alone. While I differentiated my ohana from my family of origin, I sacrificed a cherished pipe dream. But I retain my honor.

Dead to Me
3 September, 2012

One can think of loyalty as being steadfast in support of another. At least for me, the other side of that is being steadfast in opposition of another. I doubt many people do not consider themselves loyal, however I think it fair to say that I value loyalty more than the average bloke. It took me four decades to realize how important loyalty is to me, probably because of its marked absence from the first quarter century of my life.

Unfortunately, loyalty can be misplaced; I certainly fell into this trap. In retrospect it seems embarrassing to me that I was so loyal to some who showed me no loyalty at all. Part of that was because it took decades for me to recognize the asymmetry. But a large part was because I had been kept ignorant of salient information. I understand that many of those involved think they were doing the right thing. Yet I still struggle to not feel betrayed because, for me, part of loyalty is telling someone what they need to know.

Once I uncovered more of the truth about the situation, my steadfast support flipped to steadfast opposition. Whilst I can have compassion in general for victims who become victimizers, I have none in specific for any of the victimizers to whom I was once loyal. I explicitly reject any philosophy that dictates that one pretends nothing happened “to rise above it”. That is more claptrap promulgated by the victimizers to evade responsibility for their actions. Without consequences for our actions, there can be no value in our actions.