You don’t have to win, but you do have to fight

Do you remember your first punch in the nose?

I think most guys can. I didn’t have a particularly violent childhood but it had its share of slugs, kicks, slaps, bites, dutch rubs and indian rope burns. All these were pretty much the expected and accepted currency of rough and tumble boyhood. Still I wasn’t prepared for the discombobulation of taking the first shot to the snotlocker. It was painful, disorienting and effectively short-circuited my offensive efforts in the fight. For that matter, it didn’t do a lot for my defensive efforts either. Ultimately the pain went away before the humiliation did. What lasted, however, was an understanding that that type of blow, while shocking, isn’t fatal. I would get hit in the nose a couple of more times before I became an “adult” and was able to do better than just persevere in those episodes.

I thought back to these experiences today while reading Michelle Malkin’s “Land of the Meek” post and her related “Namby Pamby Nation” column. Here’s an excerpt from the column:

The left-wing Kumbaya crowd is quietly grooming a generation of pushovers in the public schools. At a time of war, when young Americans should be educated about this nation’s resilience and steely resolve, educators are indoctrinating students with saccharine-sticky lessons on “non-violent conflict resolution” and “promoting constructive dialogues.”

Peaceniks are covering our kids from head to toe in emotional bubble wrap. They are creating a nation of namby-pambys.

The latest example of Hand-Holding 101 comes from the New York City public schools. According to Lauren Collins of The New Yorker magazine, the school system is introducing a new curriculum called “Operation Respect: Don’t Laugh at Me” into all of its elementary and middle schools. The program is now used in at least 12,000 schools and camps across the country.

Ostensibly, the program helps kids deal with petty meanness and name-calling from insensitive classmates. Not by instructing them in self-defense, mind you, but by inflating their self-esteem.

Now, I generally support non-violence. Despite what you may assume from the way I opened this post, my mother raised me not to fight and not to hit; especially where my younger brother and sister were concerned. “You’re bigger than they are, and it’s not right.” I tried to live up to her standard, and suffered the sanctions when I couldn’t. But along with that came the sense that I shouldn’t let other big people pound on littler people either.

There was a time when my brother was in junior high when some larger classmates of his conducted an ongoing taunting campaign against him. When this escalated to ganging up on him physically, an intervention was discussed at the dinner table that night. Somewhat to our surprise, my father indicated there would be no parental involvement: if we wanted to send a message we’d have to do it ourselves. “You don’t have to win,” he said, “but you do have to fight. If you don’t let them know there’s a price to pay this will never end.” That might not be word for word, given the years that have passed, but the meaning is still clear to me today.

The next day we waded into them (a couple of the younger guys were every bit my size)…and we won. The next day, and the day after that, brought additional skirmishes as other “insurgents” sought their own revenge, but we continued to prevail and by the end of the week peace reigned in the neighborhood. I did have to endure a mother hen cursing me out from her front porch while her six-foot “chick” skulked nearby in utter mortification, but the look on his face was worth it. Not to mention what it did for my self-esteem.

Read Michelle’s post and the comment string that goes with it for examples from others of how peace at any cost approach is literally hurting kids and leaving them ill-equipped to handle their emotions and and life’s setbacks. As for me, I don’t think I was warped by my experience. I haven’t resorted to physical intimidation or violence to solve a dispute since that time, but the lessons learned from that week and from the punches in the nose I received before then have served me well.

Some say that you can’t live like that today because a fistfight might suddenly turn into a gunfight. There’s certainly evidence to support that. I wonder, though, if the youth today had been allowed to scrap more when they were younger – if they had learned that respect sometimes needs to be earned, not assumed – that the rage that leads to going for a gun might have already been tempered. For me, I learned I wasn’t always going to win, that some people just weren’t going to like me, and that I could take a hit and keep going. It gave me confidence and also taught me how to think under pressure. One last example:

When I was a sophomore in high school my gym class went through the Red Cross life-saving training program. We met in the school pool and learned and practiced techniques for grabbing and controlling drowning swimmers so they could be rescued. When it came time to pass our final exam, our gym teacher invited a couple of seniors who were varsity tackles on the football team to be our “victims”. They were told to resist us in any way they could in order to mimic the panic and unpredictability of a real drowning victim. If we couldn’t “save” them we would get an F for the final.

The tackles, naturally, looked at this as a legal way to beat up on underclassmen. I watched as three or four of my classmates were themselves dragged out of the pool, bruised and bloody. The only thing our teacher said was “Next,” and I realized he meant me. Having been grounded in evolution theory, I may have suggested that we wait and see if my assigned drowning victim would develop gills. (Of course, that would have meant evolution is observable.)

Nevertheless, into the pool I went to grapple with a guy who was big, mean and having a good time. I knew he seriously wanted to hurt my feelings…and anything else he could get his hands on. I suppose if he’d been through “Operation Respect” he might not have acted this way, but odds are you’re going to run into people who slept through the class.

Anyway, instead of swimming up to him and trying to get my arms around his barrel-sized chest in one of the holds we had been taught, I treaded water just outside his reach while he taunted me. When he finally lunged at me I instead wrapped my arms around his head in a way definitely not described in our textbook and proceeded to do everything I could to keep my body between him and the surface of the water.

The agreed upon signal if anyone found themselves in trouble during a “rescue” was to pinch your partner. I waited until I had felt two or three pinches before releasing my grip. When he popped desperately to the surface I took the opportunity to apply a more orthodox hold and swam him to the side of the pool – a direction he was now very happy to go. He was heaving, my classmates were cheering and the instructor was hiding his face behind his clipboard so we wouldn’t see him laughing. That seemed to calm things down for the rest of the assignment and we all passed, including the earlier rescuers who were given a second chance. As for the guy I “rescued”, he learned to appreciate the difference between playing at being saved and the real need to be saved. But that’s a blog for another day.

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