Sunday, July 8, 2012

Feinting

"Rhythm is everything in boxing. Every move you make starts with your heart, and that's in rhythm or you're in trouble."
—Sugar Ray Robinson

I've started boxing again.  It was time.

I've blogged about boxing before, and how much I love it. As I said in my earlier post, "Thinking Inside of the Box," I think that boxing, when practiced as a sport (and not as a money-making bloodbath), can teach you a lot that is useful intellectually, if you take what you learn and apply it to situations where its lessons might not seem so obvious.

But boxing also has an emotional component for me.  I have a temper.  And it's an impulsive one.  I don't like being angry, so I'll often bite my tongue and walk away, or vent in private.

The problem is, that doesn't really take care of the problem.  The anger still builds, particularly if someone keeps pushing my buttons.  And sometimes they do.

I don't like people who lie or people who do sneaky things.  I never have.  It strikes me as pointless and immature and downright stupid, and there's something in the very fiber of my being that gets really, really angry when I watch people behave that way for any length of time, whether it's towards me or towards other people.

(As you can probably tell from that last sentence, even just writing about that kind of behavior steams me.)

People who do it and think they're clever, the ones who smile in your face and feed you a bunch of lies and expect that you'll just keep eating it up and coming back for more (because you'll never figure out what they're really up to) are a real pet peeve of mine.

If you want to piss me off, do that.  If you want to really piss me off, do it repeatedly.

I'd much rather someone walk up to me and say, "Look.  I think you're a jerk, I don't like what you did, and I don't want to be your friend.  I don't like you, and here's why."  And we'll take it from there.

I'd respect that.  I may not agree with it, but I'd respect the person for telling me openly, to my face, and I'd understand their anger.  We're not always all going to get along, and as we all know, shit happens.  Ironically, I'd probably walk away thinking that the person who spoke to me that way would eventually be my friend again someday, because we clearly respect each other in very important ways, despite our differences and the circumstances that spawned them.

But people who do the sneaky email thing?  Not cool.  People who do the sneaky Facebook thing? Not cool.  People who are sneaky in general?  I have no patience for it.  None.  Not a bit.

But, I value patience, so I try to practice it no matter what.  As the Greek proverb says, "One minute of patience, ten years of peace."  St. Augustine claimed that, "Patience is the companion of wisdom."  And, as Bulwer-Lytton points out, "Patience is not passive ... It is concentrated strength."

I would rather possess the concentrated strength of patience.  So, I make a conscious choice to give people the benefit of the doubt and try to err on the side of kindness.  And generally, it works.  It drives my good friends nuts, because they hate to see me being treated badly or run around in circles, but in many cases, it works.

Because even though I don't like people who lie or do sneaky things, as one of my friends often says, "You never know what kind of torture someone's got going on."  I've had friends who have lied and done sneaky things on occasion, and I didn't like it.

But I was patient (although I did give them a wide berth, obviously), and one day, they came to me and said, "I want to tell you something.  I lied to you, and I'm sorry.  I shouldn't have done it, but I did, and here's what was going on with me.  I just couldn't be honest with you at the time."

Actually, that's happened more than once in my life, and it's one of the reasons I continue to practice patience, even if, in the moment itself, the recipient really doesn't seem to deserve it.

But then, there are the others.  They're pretty few and far between (thank god).  I meet dozens of people a year, at least, and I can count on one hand the number of people I've lost patience with and permanently excised from my life. 

These are the cases where boxing helps me emotionally.  When I was in elementary school, I confess, I got into a couple of fights.  Nothing serious, but if someone pushed my buttons and kept on pushing them, I would get exasperated and start swinging.

And, as I mentioned before, I don't like sneaky.  In my experience, sneakiness and immaturity tend to go hand-in-hand--and they each carry backpacks loaded with cowardice.

After my grade-school altercations, I'd feel bad.  Well, sort of... maybe... a little... "morally and intellectually unsettled."  In any case, I'd accept whatever punishment was doled out to me, because I did realize, "You can't just hit people," and I did genuinely wish that it hadn't come to that.

But as I told my dad one time when I was a child, "I can't help it.  I don't think about it, I tell them over and over again to 'knock it off,' I turn my back on them and try to walk away, but then all of a sudden, they say something and I spin around and start punching them.  Or I see them bothering someone and that person's not fighting back, and I just can't let them do that to someone, so I charge in and hit them to make them stop."

I was a joy to raise.  Truly.  A fighting bookworm.  How often do you see such a thing?

My mom once said that it was difficult to teach me "discretion," because I "didn't feel fear the way normal people do."  She said that she and my dad realized early on that I simply did not seem to feel an instinctive sense of caution, so they would have to teach it to me. 

She also said that they realized that, because it was a learned behavior, it would have its limits.  My mom said, "We knew that, if someone really made you mad, well... all bets were off as to what you might do."

On the bright side, she pointed out, "We also realized that it was really, really, really hard to make you mad.  Your sense of humor and your sarcasm generally kicked in and deflected it, long before it got to that point.  And you've always been good about warning people that they were taking it too far with you.  You're not subtle."

To help me out, my dad told me a story about my grandfather.  He too had an impulsive temper.  And one day, when my grandfather was cutting wood with his father, they got into an argument over some silly, pointless thing and his father made a cutting little remark while my grandfather's back was turned.

In short, he pushed his buttons one too many times.

My grandfather, without thinking, grabbed the axe on the woodpile next to him, spun around, and tomahawked it at his father.  It missed his head by inches.

My dad said that, after that, my great-grandfather would always walk away if he saw my grandfather getting a bit hot under the collar.  He knew my grandfather didn't mean it, he knew he couldn't control it, and he knew he could end up doing something he'd regret.

This was my dad's lesson to me: "You have to find another way or you'll do something you regret.  Walk away, use your brain, and find another way."

I remember my dad paused for a bit after he said this.  Then, when my mom left the room, he leaned in with a mischievous little smile and said to me quietly, "And then, when you see a chance and they're not expecting it, get them.  And make sure they know it was you who got them and that they know exactly why you did it."

His logic? "Because then, they'll know better than to try to pull that shit on you again."

Because, my dad taught me, if you want to get anywhere in life, you simply can't let people bulldoze over you, even if you want to be a kind and forgiving and patient person.  You just can't.  And you can't expect people to stop doing it and just walk away, the way my great-grandfather did.

The better people won't do it in the first place and the good ones will walk away, because they know that the goodness of a person's life isn't about their intentions, it's about their actions.

The not-so-good people will keep at it, particularly if they're not getting caught and no one's getting hurt (except you).

Some people don't learn a lesson unless it has a bit of a sting and some unpleasant consequences.  I wish that weren't the case, but I'm afraid, it is.

I never fully realized how much I had internalized my dad's advice until I began boxing.  One day, as I was sparring with an opponent, the coach came over and watched us for a bit.  She then told the other woman, "Okay, here's the thing.  She's going to stay light on her feet.  She's going to duck and slip and feint and do her best to keep you from landing a punch.  She's a defensive fighter.  She won't charge out and go all aggressive on you right away, she's just going to wait and watch and try to keep you from hitting her."

I told her, "Well, I know we're boxing and all, but I really don't want someone hitting me.  That'll hurt."

The coach laughed and said, "Here's the other thing.  While she's staying light on her feet and moving and dodging, she's doing two things.  She's wearing you out and she's watching to see what you've got.  She's going to see how you move, how hard you hit, size you up, figure out what you're all about.  But you need to realize: all the time she's doing this, she's getting you to use up what you've got and she's saving herself."

She concluded, "And then, when she sees that you have nothing left and she knows exactly what you're all about, she's going to move in and start hitting you.  And when she hits, she hits hard.  At that point, it'll be over quickly."

She told my opponent, "You're going to have to try to be quicker than she is, anticipate the direction she's going to take, and try to cut her off before she gets there.  Good luck with that.  She's fast and she's tough and she likes a challenge.  I wouldn't ever want to make her mad."

She turned to me, shook her head and said with a smile, "English professor, hunh?  You should have been a boxer.  You have the heart of a boxer."

When I walked home that night, I thought, "My dad would have been proud."

"Made me learn a little bit faster,
Made my skin a little bit thicker,
Makes me that much smarter."

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."