Shoulder punchers: an interview with Smerkle Grumpy


  • Mr. Grumpy, it’s a pleasure to sit down with –
  • Smerkle.
  • Pardon?
  • Smerkle, call me Smerkle.
  • Well then, it’s a pleasure sit down with you.
  • Thank you. You as well.
  • It’s been awhile.
  • Been watching my man, Peter, from afar, as the saying goes. Watching him trying to get himself moved. Proud of him. Still patient with people, more than most, more than me. Known him since he was a boy – he’s got a real kind streak.
  • You think he is too kind?
  • Oh no, don’t misunderstand me. Not too kind at all. Glad he’s in a world that’s been short on kindness for a long time. So no, not too kind.
  • Too patient?
  • He’s more patient than I’d be, but no, not too patient. People deserve patience, some need and deserve a lot of it. Some deeply wounded folk in the world.
  • Can he run out of patience?
  • We all can. I remember a time my boy did when he was in reform school back when.
  • Can you tell us about it? Would he mind?
  • He might mind, but I’ll tell you. There was this kid, same age as Peter, in the same hall, the wards where the boys lived. Anyway, this kid, will call him Johnny, liked to punch Peter in the shoulder, doing it light at first, then a little harder, saying sorry later, then punching Pete’s shoulder next time Peter’d walk by. After a while, Peter called him out.
  • Called him out?
  • In this reform school if two of the boys were getting close to a fight, they’d let the boys fight, surrounded by their mates, the male staff watching to make sure no one really got badly hurt, and usually the two combatants became friendly after the fight. Some kind of release I suppose. Calling out was when one kid challenged another, quietly or openly.
  • How’d Peter do it?
  • Wide open. They were in the gym sitting on bleachers, about 30 boys, half a dozen staff or so, taking a break. Peter walks by, Johnny punches him in the shoulder and that was it.
  • What was it?
  • Peter ripped into him. You really want to fight with me that badly? Seriously? Just can’t help yourself, wish it that bad do you? If you’re feeling froggish, then leap, cause your wish has come true.
  • What happened?
  • One smack upside Johnny’s head and down he went. Then Peter did his thing, helped Johnny up, telling him all the time being friends was a lot easier on the both of’m than fighting. Even when he knew he had no choice and had to act, like with Johnny, or protecting someone, he always felt badly about hurting someone.
  • He felt guilty.
  • No-no, not guilty. Badly. Sad. Definitely not guilty.
  • It’s good to be talking with you again, Smerkle.
  • Good to be talking with you too.



The power of kindness

I am not beholden to that influential piece of propaganda that says kindness is weakness. Here’s one example of how wrong that propaganda is. The act of responding to anger and rage by walking away is an act of kindness because the person walking away, disengaging, if you will, is choosing not to inflame the moment any more than it already is. Yet the act of walking away is often considered weak. Rubbish. If it is an act of weakness to be kind, to walk away, then why is it so hard for so many to do exactly that?

If walking away was weakness doing it should be breeze, and it ain’t. As a human rights advocate, I’ve walked away, figuratively and literally, from some nasty, cruel and very often dishonest people, when a part of me fancied the idea of dribbling a few of them around the room and out the door.

There is a reasonable question to be asked. How is it, exactly, that walking away is, in fact, an act of kindness? If we equate the world we live in to the body and mind we live in, would it not be fair to say I am treating my body and mind with greater kindness by sparing both surges in stress and anxiety and anger? Are we not being kind to the world we live in when we choose not to add conflict? I certainly think so.

Kindness is just about as close to sacred as a human trait be, in large part  because you can’t have kindness without respect. Nearly every wound one human inflicts on another requires the absence of respect.  In fact, the depth of the wound one person inflicts on another, can often be measured by the degree to which the respect for the person is missing.

More help from my father

We’ve all endured behavior from others we didn’t deserve. Some of us recognize this the moment it happens. Some of us for various reasons have a more difficult time recognizing when we are accepting disrespectful and, in some cases, cruel and abusive treatment from others.  For too many years I was in the latter group. Still am, at times, though rarely. The reason I almost always immediately recognize when I’m being badly treated is an easy-to-apply strategy that occurred to me nearly a dozen years ago.

Now, anyone who really knows me knows my father, Sanford Cleveland Kahrmann, holds the most sacred place in my heart and soul. He was and is the greatest gift my life has ever given me. Although he died at age 55 when I was 15  his continued daily presence  in my heart and soul has, on more than one occasion, helped me get through difficult times. Having at least one parent who loves or loved you completely simply because you are you can be a life saver. Sometimes literally. When I was held up and shot in the head in 1984 and found myself on the ground dying it was the very real presence of my father in my thoughts that gave me the strength to stand up and get the help I needed to save my life. So it didn’t surprise me when my father’s presence in my life resulted in a strategy that helped me disengage from someone years ago who was emotionally abusive. My personal struggles at the time along with some of the more wounding elements of my history were making it hard for me to realize I was letting this person get away with behavior no one should get away with. Then one day the following thought occurred to me: What would I do if I this person treating my father like this? Bingo! That was it! I knew (instantly) if I saw anyone treating my father like this I would have driven them off by any means necessary and protected my father with all my might. Then and there I realized I’d happened on a fool-proof way of recognizing when I was permitting myself to be treated in a way I didn’t deserve.

We all lose our cool at times and say things in the heat of anger, stress or pain that we later regret. If we apologize to each other and mean it, okay then. Wounds can heal. We’re only human after all and the words human and perfection have never been and never will be synonyms. But, if we don’t hold ourselves and each other accountable for our choices and sincerely apologize when we’ve hurt someone, the wounds won’t heal. They’ll simply fester.  If mutual respect is too much to ask for and a sincere apology is too much expect, what’s the point?

So, as you continue your journey in life, think of someone who is for you what my father is for me. Maybe this person is one of your parents, a sibling, your child, a grandparent, friend. It doesn’t matter as long as it is someone you love and cherish with all your heart. Once you’ve identified who this is bring them to mind next time you think you may be accepting behavior you don’t deserve. If you realize you would not allow this person to be treated the way you’re being treated, then the strategy has worked. What you do about it when you realize this varies. Sometimes, not always, the answer is to completely disengage from the person or persons wounding you. Sometimes making it clear you are disengaging from the behavior rather than the person or persons is the healthy choice. There is nothing unhealthy about letting someone know that while you value their presence in your life, there are certain things you will not accept. Some have given me more than one chance, so very often others deserve the same, if, and only if, they recognize and take responsibility for their behavior. If they don’t, better to disengage.

One last thing. The person you love with all your heart who you’d protect with all your might that you’ve chosen for this strategy? You deserve the same level of respect and protection you’d instinctively give them. No doubt they’d be the first to reassure you this is true.