Discretion is the better part of valor

We built yellow into our traffic lights because if they went right from red to green with no warning it would be too late to stop in time. Strangely, in matters of personal behavior, people seem to treat yellow lights like they do when they’re driving, they hit the gas.

This is a blog. We sit behind our keyboards and “converse” (you could say banter, or joust, or bitch) with other people who are similarly distant and anonymous. And lately it’s fascinating how much the anger back and forth has become so perverted; the people who claim they are the level-headed intellectuals have found some malicious form of enjoyment in carrying on disagreements to the point they seem to hope the other party has either smashed the computer, shot themselves through the temple, or blown up the building to take as many others with them as possible.

More evidence of unabomber anger below.

This is a long diary. Don’t read it if you’re in a hurry.

Have you ever come across another person who was overtly displaying all the symptoms that they were already at the absolute upper limit of their self control?

What did you do at that point?

Did you say, “Hmmm…this looks bad. This guy is not handling himself well at all, I’d better back up a bit, because if he goes off I might get caught in a roundhouse that wasn’t even aimed at me…”

Or did you say, “Wow. This guy has lost it. He should realize people aren’t allowed to act that violently in our society, I’d better go up there and rap his knuckles really good so he’ll learn a lesson about how to better manage his self control. I’ll make him learn proper decorum”

Or did you say, “Hey – I bet if I give this guy just a few more reasons to lose his cool, he will go completely ballistic. I wonder what that would look like; I’ve never seen a person come completely unhinged and do something really stupid. Let’s see where this can go…”

Because I have to tell you something. This country – this planet – is building monsters. Supposedly we all share the same physiology. All gene theory aside, we basically have the same physical structure, and what is unique about us is our personality. Some people are laid back, some are uptight and angry. In my experiences, it’s become disgusting to witness this “hey, yall, watch this!” mentality with people and other people’s emotions, and it’s all the more disgusting when some people engage in this poke-them-with-a-stick mentality to show somehow that they are better persons.

I wrote a diary once about a comment I heard by Tony Bennet. Bennet was a young entertainer just getting his start, and he told Frank Sinatra that he was worried about how nervous he was in front of big crowds. Ol’ Blue Eyes says to him, “Don’t be afraid to show people you are nervous. If you are nervous, then they know you care, and if they know you care they will be behind you.”

Now granted, that was probably in 1950 when the conversation took place. Because I think in 2008, a crowd would say, “Hey, this clown is completely freaked out. Let’s really drive him out of his skin and see what happens”.

And that’s their privilege in a free society. They can engage in that, within certain limits, and ultimately they can always run and hide behind the law and say that their taunting and teasing was only verbal, therefore it was legal because it’s always the responsibility of each individual to stay within the limits of society.

What do you do when other people are not happy until they push you past those limits, just to prove to you that you shouldn’t go there?  

We have a bizarre denial in this country that really bewilders me – have you ever made a mistake while driving, and realize that the other people who are coming at you did not even try to hit the brakes before they hit the horn? They would rather show you how pissed off they are that you screwed up rather than avoid the accident. Keep your eye out for that, it will keep you up at night when you witness it.

It’s like those unforgivable fools who staged the “hold your wee for a Wii” radio competition last year; they held a contest where people were challenged to show up and drink water without going to the bathroom to win a video game. People listening to the stunt called in to the radio station to warn them that drinking too much water will cause people’s brains to swell, and it can be deadly. The radio jockeys said, “Hey, these people signed a waiver. Not our fault if something goes wrong!” A woman did die as a result of that stunt, and her kids have lost their mother.

But hey, she signed a waiver, so it’s all good.

And there it is. Maybe it is true that sometimes you are indeed completely right and legally justified and even supported by popular opinion; but when you see warnings that something is out of order and you proceed headlong anyway, my opinion is that you’ve changed the game.

A yellow light means that if you don’t stop now, in a moment the light will be red; at that point, other people are going to have the green light and they’re going to be justified in proceeding. And when metal hits metal it’s all very unfortunate that one of you was wrong, and the judge can rule on the case and restitution can be paid and it can be declared that things were “settled.”

But if you’ve ever seen one of those wrecks happen before your eyes, and watched someone die as a result, or live to be permanently crippled and disfigured, the fact that the judge ruled in your favor and gave you a large check that will eventually run out is little comfort.

It would have been so much better for everyone if the driver pushing the yellow just hadn’t.

I’m expecting this diary to bring out the exact type of scolds I’m talking about. And as much as I have enjoyed this website in the last two years and do wholeheartedly support it’s general purpose (particularly because I believe our ideological opposites on the Right are completely misguided and going this country great harm) I’ve met some people that are like a  lit flare to a swimming pool filled with gasoline.

I want the bullshit to stop, but when someone is tickling my nose and just daring me to swat their hand away, I’ll swat. Why? Because if I don’t swat, they’ll be disappointed and try something else anyway. Some people come to the fight looking to accomplish something; they won’t stop until they have.

I’m not doing too well. And it’s become sickening to me – yes, I said sickening – because the sport of antagonizing and just plain shitting on someone because you know they can’t reach you – is not a lot of fun any more.

Because if I’m open enough to be completely open, honest, and declarative about my feelings, and the people around me have decided that they don’t care what they are because they know they have the right to act as they please regardless of what they see or hear or experience, I’m cold inside.

“I don’t agree, and this is getting uncomfortable for me”

“well, what are you going to do about it. You could just give up”

“as could you, what’s your stake in this? Why don’t you give up”

“Well, because you’re unhinged. There’s no talking to you. So I’m going to keep pointing that out.”

?

I’m really enraged, and the fact that they are enjoying that is what makes me so cold and empty. Other people who don’t know me from Adam are actually enjoying my outrage. That’s a tragic thought, in my world; and the reality that it’s not tragic but sport in the minds of many others, leaves me feeling very detached and disconnected.

We’ve got a president who is reminding us that we live in a country who’s one of many mottos is “United We Stand”, and yet there we ‘stand’ throwing rocks at each other at every opportunity. White or black, Christian or not so much, straight or gay, native born or immigrant, Democrat or Republican. We’re going to look like blind assholes in retrospect. Worse still is that when you try to point this out to someone (give it a try) they will say, “hey, this is how things are. Deal with it.”

And that’s where I curl up in a ball because I don’t think we’re going to make it. As a country, as a species, take your pick –

As a species, we’re supposed to be the one animal that has free will and the intellectual power to advance itself through positive change, innovation, and invention. And here we are, willfully surrendering that as if to say, “well, we evolved from lesser beings, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that some still behave that way”. So we have the capacity to be smarter and more noble, but it’s still OK to surrender that just because many people do?

And then you ponder the history of this country: We were not founded by complacent people who were content to let the misery of yesterday be perpetuated through tomorrow. In the seventeenth century, we recognized injustice and we set out to provide a place where there was supposed to be freedom from tyranny and oppression. And now we seem to be saying that as long as it’s not enforced oppression by government and statute, that the kind of intolerance and abuse we inflict on each other is just part of our animal instinct.

In the Eighteenth century we stood up to tyrants and created a country where it was not possible for one to have dominion over us.

In the Nineteenth century we finally recognized the barbarism and inhumanity in slavery, despite that it was still permitted in the Bible, and we abolished it.

In the Twentieth century, we came to deal with the long standing social and institutional mistreatment of people based on physical appearance alone and tried to make a better environment for all.

And the indifference and apathy that I see in this country, supposedly the greatest the world has to offer, is sickening me.

When you see someone who looks to be so enraged that he may snap and do something unthinkable, why is it so hard to take personal responsibility at that moment and – as you have must have heard sometime in your life – let discretion be the better part of valor. You don’t have to add anything to a bad situation. You can be the better party and choose to diffuse it, or at the very least, don’t play a part in it.

But let me suggest to you – if you’re willing to stand toe-to-toe with someone and banter with them for 59 rounds, you’re on very shaking ground, if any ground at all, to claim that they have somehow crossed the line by going 60 rounds. You were right there with them all along – and now you’ve set the limits? How convenient.

My purpose in writing this essay is that it has become clear to me that we have far too many people who are content to scold someone after the damage is done, but who take no personal stake in avoiding the damage in the first place. How much angst is spent to execute or incarcerate the criminals in this country, and how does that compare to the energy devoted to actually changing the attitudes, the circumstances, and the outlook in this country that often drives otherwise rational people to commit crime?

We comfort ourselves by saying that there are “bad” people, that’s who does those things. It never dawns on them that people are born basically inert; they become good, bad, or unremarkable through the course of their lives by their experiences. You know this. People are built and shaped by their time on Earth amongst others like themselves; or others unlike themselves.

I write to express myself. Whether it’s a misguided mistake to think I have anything constructive to offer or not, I can’t determine that. Some have told me I say meaningful things, others say I’m a fool (or worse) and think I have nothing to offer or even detract from the conversation.

But for your own sake (I don’t care about Christ’s sake) ask yourself what you are doing when you come across someone who is loaded for bear and is sending out all kinds of signals that he’s not far from his limits, and you decide it would be fun just to see where it goes…

One of the reasons I have such little respect for religion is that it was religious people (amongst others) who told me “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. And then they proceeded to become the kind of people who demanded they were right, they were better, they were more deserving than others, and they treated people however they felt like it .

Sometimes they were right.

Other times it didn’t matter, because they were dealing with someone who just did not care anymore, and took action in their defense or rage.

It’s always fascinated me how many times in my life I have heard the caution “you can’t change other people; you can only change yourself” – and it will keep you awake for days on end when you realize that the next time you hear that phrase you will be hearing it from someone who is trying to change you by saying it.

Here’s a quick end to those who have read this far:

If you are walking along, and out of the corner of your eye you spot a dog hunkered down in the corner of an abandoned building, growling, covered in mange and open wounds and frothing at the mouth, you have a choice to keep walking and hope the dog is as interested in you are in avoiding any conflict. After all, he’s staying put at the moment. But if you decide to prove to yourself that no dog should ever bite a human no matter what the circumstances, and you walk on over to the dog and poke it in the eye with a stick for no other reason than to shoot the dog when it lunges out to bite you, I declare the dog to be a better soul than you were.

The dog gave you all the warnings and signals that it was best just to leave it alone; and although the law of the land was on your side that no dog shall bite a human no matter what, not only were you the one who  invited the situation by giving the dog a reason he did not have before you poked him in the eye –

the dog did nothing more than exactly what you expected it to.

So why are you blaming the dog?

Discretion is the better part of valor. If you want to argue with someone ad nauseum, you are entitled to do so. What you are not entitled to do is to goad someone into a fight, antagonize them knowing that things are becoming absurd and unpredictable, and then cry “foul” when things reach a level of intensity that you knew was inevitable – which was precisely your goal by pushing it that far.

A guy just shot his five kids, his wife, and himself today because he was laid off.

KABC reported that the man claimed in the fax that an administrator rebuffed them when they showed up to work, told them to file a union grievance and said, “You should have blown your brains out.”

Well, he did exactly what they expected him to do, and now people are standing around scratching their heads and saying, “how did it come to this?”

The next time you come across someone who’s ready to snap, ask yourself if you are you trying to make a bad situation better and have given them a reason to come back from the edge, or are you in it for sport just to drive someone as far as you can to see where it goes?

And if you answer “yes” to the second choice, even if you are completely within your legal rights to take that next step, what part of your soul are you really willing to sacrifice to actually find out the answer?

I’m not blaming anyone in particular, I’m not asking anything of you by name. I only ask that if it is clear that the other person has run off the rails, what is served by proving more?

You can be the better person and not have to prove it; and if you indeed take that last step to prove it, you might not be the better person any longer.

One man’s opinion. That’s all this was

2 comments

    • Edger on January 29, 2009 at 4:16 am

    Been awhile.

    Just don’t push me, ok?  😉

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