Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sticks and Stones

You used to hear that a lot. Our parents would tell us, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words cannever hurt me." That's changed. Now you hear: "Words can cut through you like a knife. Words can hold such venom or poison that they can damage, destroy or kill more effectively than a physical weapon."

I can't help but think that this person has never been cut by a knife, or seen anyone destroyed by a physical weapon. Maybe there's a scale, or maybe more: people assume that the worst they've ever been hurt is at the very edge of what humans can feel. So if the worse pain you've ever felt is an unkind word, you think it must be worse that the third or fourth or fifth worse pain I've ever felt which was probably lying on my back after a good fall unable to breathe trying pathetically to scream or at least squeek for help. Or maybe running on a broken leg. Or frostbite (no, recovering from frostbite was the worst or second worst).

Maybe it's just me, but lying on a couch for a few days trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I might be blind in one eye was way worse than being embarassed or insulted or demeaned.

Part of me wants to go into the damage to the body versus damage to the ego talk. (I mean ego as sense of self, not the modern sense of hubris) Your self-image being restructured can be damaging, even crippling. It is a mostly imaginary thing but it is also our life's work.

What I really want to write about, though, is our complicity in damage, how we learn to be hurt. Neither of my kids are cry-babies. If you have young childen, you watched them fall a few times in very early childhood. It was a shock to them, a big new sensation. If you were paying attention, you saw them look at YOU trying to pick up on what the new sensation meant. If you ran over in a huge concern, "Oh poor baby! Are you okay?" the baby learned falling was bad and started to cry. If you looked over and in a neutral voice said, "You okay?" The baby probably just crawled on. (I usually said, "So, you feel stupid now?" which probably warped the kids badly.)

I taught my daughter early that if she had a minor injury, she only had to put pressure on it and breathe out and the pain would lesson. It still works for her.

Psychological... but physical, too. In martial arts one of the things that has always amazed me is the huge difference in ideas of pain and damage between different people. When you start in judo, you take a lot of falls. You go home and your hand is swollen and tender from slapping the mat and your body feels like one huge bruise. But if you stick with it, you eventually do the same number of falls (and harder, because they quit taking it easy on you) without the swelling or the pain. I've taken hard falls on hard surfaces (a 12 foot face plant off a cliff, a bicycle flip at over thirty mph, thrown on concrete with a 260 pound man on top) without a scratch- (okay, forearm bruises in the cliff fall, but I was out of practice). Judo taught me to deal with impact.

Football in highschool, too. (And a little rugby in college). You get hit hard and you learn to hit hard with your whole body and get up and do it again, all the while following a plan. It made the crashing of judo an easy transition.

If you watch a karate or kung fu class that doesn't regularly do hard contact, people freeze when they accidentally make face contact. The first real hit in the face can come as a completely mind numbing shock. Contrast that with someone who hisses, "Sweet!" when he gets hit in the face because he knows the rest of the brawl will be fun.

So a face punch can be freezing or fun and it seems to be a matter of experience and attitude. A decision? How much does this affect the damage incured? What are the variables in a strike? Is it simply a matter of power and placement? Why is it if you hit ten people in the exact same place with the exact same strike some will faint and some will curl up in a ball and some will get angry and one will look at you like you're an idiot?

How much power do we have in accepting or refusing damage? And how much more so when the damage isn't even physical?


Molly said...

Back up, brother dear -
Is your eye OK?
Love ya!

Rory said...

Relax, sis, it was years ago. I thought you'd seen the pics of the valley to coast mountain bike trip with my eye all bandaged up.