Not nice is not strong

If someone says, “I know I’m not being nice to you, but I have to be tough,” they’ve memorialized the completely false assertion that being unkind is, somehow, an act of strength.

Rubbish.  Being unkind requires no strength. Zero. All it does is wound, and repulse.

Giving anger decision making power is a lot easier than managing it in a healthy way. Anger, in and of itself, is not the problem, the relation one has with it can be.

Respect is never too much to ask for; neither is kindness.

 

The Angels of 286 E. 2nd Street

In 1984 there were real life angels living at 286 E. 2nd Street in New York City’s Lower East Side. I know there were angels living there for a fact because even though I’m not an angel, I lived there too.  And the people in this building helped save my life, in large part, by helping me decide to continue taking part in it. You don’t get more angel than that.

I was held up at gunpoint early one August morning on a Brooklyn street in 1984 and shot in the head at point blank range. The bullet, along with some bone fragments to keep it company, remains lodged in my brain. Knowing the wound can abscess at any time and, if it does, possibly end my life, is a full plate’s worth of reality to digest.

While it was the 84th Precinct of the New York City Police Department and the doctors and nurses in Long Island College Hospital that saved my life. It was the angels of 286 East Second Street that helped me decide to keep it, and then, live it.

My dictionary, New Oxford American English, defines the noun, angel, as “a spiritual being believed to act as an attendant, agent, or messenger of God, conventionally represented in human form with wings and a long robe.” 

This definition perfectly describes the angels of 286, though being from the New York City’s Lower East Side, they didn’t need any wings – or robes, for that matter. It would have cramped their style, come to think of it.

I moved into 286 in the early 1980s. It was there I met, for the first time, Dane Arnold, Hart Faber, Joshua Holland, Zeke Kisling, Arthur May, Kenneth Mencher, Dominique Nadel, Dorrill Semper, Kathy Semper, Thomas Weatherly. 

Every single one of them, honest, compassionate, loving, strong. In truth, they are, every single one of them, some of the most extraordinary individuals I’ve ever known. 

Each one of the exemplified that singular wisdom of Henry David Thoreau by allowing themselves to be themselves.

“I learned this, at least, by my experience: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” 

An ally called honesty

I think anyone kind enough to travel these lines deserves to know the hands tapping out the words belong to an honest man. 

While I am unquestionably! a flawed being, honesty is my ally. In short, it is the greatest ally I’ve come to know in life. It is, for all intents and purposes, my higher power. I asked a close friend once, how best to identify a higher power. He said, “As long as you know it’s not you.”

I knew exactly what he meant. Stay in the moment as best you can, keep your head where your feet are. Understanding that the moment you’re in is the only place you have to be; finding the gift in that experience.  Sometimes, moments of peace. Tranquility may be the better word. Peace has had itself mangled by its nearly umbilical attachment to war.

Tranquility’s sound matches its meaning; it would no doubt be played by the woodwind section of an orchestra. 

Without honesty, there can be no tranquility. At least not for me. Dishonesty distorts reality. Reality’s tough enough as it is without adding dishonesty to the mix.

I’ve been away from this blog for a bit, coming to terms with some things in life, like we all do. I can tell you this, I am grateful for every single one of you who has been kind enough to travel these lines with me. And that’s the truth.

A distance maker called bullying

It takes no strength to be a bully. That said, to call those who bully, villains or bad people, misses the mark entirely. Hold people accountable, certainly. But accountability does not mean compassion has no role.  When possible, it does. Very much so. 

Bullying itself is a distance maker as far as I’m concerned. A way of keeping people backed off. Distance makers, as I’ve been bold enough to name them, consist of some behavior, attribute, environmental reality, that keeps people at a distance. Distance makers come in many forms. A former colleague of mine who dealt with a weight challenge told me that some folks put on weight as a way of keeping people away. 

It was pondering that observation that led me to recognize the presence of distance makers and the sizable repertoire of distance makers alive and well in the human family. In short, distance makers, healthy or not in form, are meant to protect us, keep us safe.

Distance makers are everywhere. Yelling, nastiness, sarcasm, name calling, threats, all forms of violence. I can attest to the fact some perfumes and colognes are distance makers. The first time I smelled musk I thought the end of the world had come.

I had a spectacular dance teacher at the Joffrey School of Ballet named Perry Brunson. He taught, Men’s Class. In all my time as a dancer I never met anyone who could teach Men’s Class as brilliantly as Mr. Brunson. On top of that, he was a nice man. A nice man who, before each class, dipped himself into a vat of English Leather, a cologne capable of repulsing anyone who got within a yard of the man.  That said, Mr. Brunson was no bully. He was, in truth, a lovely man, and a teacher I remember with gratitude and great fondness.

Back to bullying. Bullying does not take strength, in my view. I’ve heard some theorize that some bullies are, underneath, cowards. I don’t agree. To call a bully a coward is to inflict judgement, and judgement, when applied in the arena of understanding human beings, distorts reality. 

It may very well be true that many bullies live with fear, a primary antecedent to the bullying in some cases, I would think. But to engage in bullying behavior, while managing fear, is anything but an act of cowardice. In truth, it takes strength to manage both at the same time. And, of course, when you bully, you run the very real risk of someone striking back. Such moments can result in some tough emotional quagmires that can often be worked through, with therapy. 

I’ll tell you now, the therapist who guided me through the end of my first marriage, getting shot, the suicide of my mother and my daughter’s suicide attempt is a New York-based certified social worker.

Bullying is a distance maker. As long as it is present, no human-to-human connection can be a healthy one.

Banning Cruelty

And then, finally, anger. Not the pound-the-table with your fist anger, but the center of your soul anger. Anger provoked by cruelty. The kind of anger known to lift the veils of denial, confusion, doubt. 

Cruelty deserves no presence in any life. You betray no one but yourself if you fail to ban cruelty from your life.