Friday, May 8, 2009
Johnny Cash Covered This Song, I Think
When I was 9 years old, my mother enrolled me in Karate classes, and as any 9 year old boy who had ever seen a Jackie Chan film would be, I was thrilled. When I showed up for my first class, I had already watched the Karate Kid enough times to know all about the standard code of honor; how you never hit anyone unless you are defending yourself, and even then you are not to harm anyone unless absolutely necessary. It was the first thing they taught us. No punching, no kicking, no focus, just the code. It was the core of the martial arts, they said, and if you didn't understand that principle then you didn't belong in the class. I've always been something of a pacifist, so I was fine with this code.
Years later I started to help teach classes under the supervision of my sensei The kids were all around the same age that I was when I first started. I watched them spar, and it was hilarious to see how delicate some of them were, throwing punches as if they were all little figurines made of glass. Nobody wanted to hurt anyone else.
By that time I had joined up with the adult classes. The ages ranged from 15 to about 40 something. It was much more intense training, but I still never wanted to hurt anyone. Then one day I was sparring with a kid named Keith. We were both about 16 years or so old, and he was being a real jackass, making fun of me and throwing in cheap hits. I told him to stop. I told him several times. But eventually, I just exploded.
He fell faster than I thought he would, and was more startled than he was hurt. Still, I knew what I had done. I had lost control. I had broken the cardinal rule of martial arts. I felt horrible, and prepared myself for my impending punishment. But to my surprise, I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my Sensei. I expected him to have a frown on his face, but he just looked serious. Not happy, not sad, but serious. Then he leaned towards my ear and said "It's alright, Colin. He deserved it."
And just like that, the rules changed. I had lost control, and it was okay. And besides, I didn't mean to hurt him. But it couldn't be okay. Keith wasn't hurt badly, but he was bleeding a little. It wasn't right. I knew it wasn't right. But the instant that those words were softly spoken in my ear, it was. A few years later I left the dojo to focus my efforts elsewhere.
There's a guy that I used to work with who was about my age that let me in on a little secret of his. He was something of a sociopath, and for whatever reason he chose to confide in me truth about his sociopathic tendencies. He lived to break hearts, just to make people fall in love with him; to see how much they loved him by the time he decided to say goodbye to them. Even when they were in perfectly happy relationships, he told me, he loved the idea of stealing them away, even though he knew that he would just break things off as soon as he got bored. He hurt people, and he knew that he hurt people, but he just couldn't help himself. He hated that he did it, but he did it anyway. And he probably still does.
At what point foes it become permissible for us to hurt others knowingly? What strange synapse fires when we grow older that suddenly gives meaning to the words "malicious intent"? What monster hatches inside of us that drives this intent to action? It's in me, and I know it's in me. I try my best to fight it, but the destruction put forth by my human nature is constantly revealed as being nothing short of completely inevitable. And it all started when they told me "it's okay, he deserved it. you deserved it."
I deserve it.
I just don't want to hurt anymore.