For most of the kids in my 5th-grade class, recess was their favorite part of the day.
The bell would ring at the last period, and everyone would run out to the playground for kickball, tag, or general socializing.
For me, it was a nightmare.
There will always be some son a bitch out there that wants to push you around, take your shit, and blow up your world.
These are often broken, scarcity-minded individuals lacking the fortitude necessary to persevere through the pain required to survive each day.
They’re afraid, upon judgment, they’ll be found wanting.
They’re afraid everyone will see their weakness.
So they attack.
My walk through the school parking lot each day from our 5th-grade classroom to the fields where my classmates gathered became a proving ground for my tolerance of aggression.
See, in 5th grade, I was fat, slow, and hadn’t developed coordination.
I was also from the poorest town in our school district. I wore sweatpants with holes in the knees to school.
I was also smart.
In terms of 5th-grade social hierarchy, I hit the loser trifecta.
Sometimes attacks came in the form of direct outright physical aggression.
These took the shape of something out of the ’50’s movie cliche bully scene, (btw I hate the terms bully and bullying). A group of faster, more physically developed kids from the “right” side of town would literally circle around me as we walked, pushing me, kicking me, and whatever else they thought would either intimidate me or annoy the shit out of me.
More often, attacks were quasi-anonymous or passive-aggressive.
These attacks would materialize as chants of “Fatboy,” or “Nassau” (the town I was from) or just general verbal and social harassment.
The verbal stuff sucked more than the physical stuff.
Always in groups.
This is the dark side of human nature.
It happens on playgrounds, in hallways, and in classrooms at schools every day. It happens in college fraternities, sororities, sports teams, clubs, and social groups.
It also happens in the break room, conference rooms, and offices at work.
And now, more than ever, it happens on social media.
“The Mob” has a new meaning.
Fear-laden, small-minded, scarcity-driven individuals will always seek to take down those who expose their weaknesses.
They also surround themselves with other scared and fearful individuals (because they’re weak) and lash out.
Most 5th-graders are just trying to keep their head above the ocean of humiliation each new day brings. So they form little tribes. It’s a survival technique.
Humans have been doing it for 100,000 years.
I didn’t have a tribe.
This made me an easy target.
Today we throw around terms like bullying and shaming with minimal regard. We call for “Mobbing” and “Doxxing” individuals who show even the mildest signs of aggression.
My friends, aggression is natural. It’s important. Shit gets hectic, and situations arise in which you need to harness aggression.
But the emotions and corresponding actions associated with aggression should not be taken lightly. You need to know how to handle yourself when someone is actually attacking you.
In all other situations, toughen the fuck up.
I cried on the way home from school one out of every three days because of the attacks I’d endure each day.
I wanted to curl up into a ball.
I wanted to hide.
Sometimes You Have to Fight Back
My Dad wouldn’t let me feel sorry for myself.
He’d say, “Son, there will come a moment when you’ve had enough. When that moment comes, it’s time to fight back.”
He didn’t call my teacher. He didn’t have a meeting with my principal. He didn’t call the kid’s parents, and he sure as shit wouldn’t fight my battle for me.
Instead, he taught me how to throw a punch.
We all want to live in these safe spaces where fucked up shit doesn’t happen, and everyone is nice to each other.
That’s not life.
People can be mean, evil, and resentful. They will attack you. They will pressure you. They will undermine you.
You have two options:
- Feel sorry for yourself and blame them for all the shittiness in your life. This is the scenario in which your attacker wins or,
- Fight back.
Fighting back takes two forms which really should be viewed as escalations:
- Dust your shoulder off, feel sorry for the weakness and cowardice your attacker lives with every day, and get back to the business of life, and then
- Go on the offensive.
Three weeks before the end of 5th grade, I was walking to the playground, and once again, my attackers were working me over.
They didn’t realize I’d reached that moment when enough was enough.
When to Fight Back
After what couldn’t have been more than 30 seconds of taunts and insults (but always felt like an eternity), I squared on the ringleader, took a big step forward, and let my fist fly while simultaneously releasing a primal yell (what at my prepubescent age of 10 was most likely more of a squeal).
I hit him in the side of the throat.
Haha. The throat… It makes me chuckle to think about it now.
From point-blank range, I missed his entire face (and head, for that matter) and delivered a glancing blow to the side of his throat.
But it was enough.
At that moment, I established myself as no longer a victim.
They didn’t fuck with me again. Ever.
I didn’t feel better for having done it.
I’m a non-violent person by nature. I don’t enjoy conflict.
I was also completely unwilling to be a victim any longer.
Bullying is terrible. Shaming might be worse.
I don’t think the answer is retreating into safe spaces.
Safe spaces don’t teach us to deal with life’s shitty, unpredictable nature.
Don’t go telling people, “Hanley told me to throat-punch anyone I don’t like.”
That’s not what I’m saying.
Violence is rarely the answer. As an adult, it is rarely the answer.
As an adult, “Going on the offensive” takes a much different shape.
Instead of throat-punching the next prick that messes with you, listen to Cal Newport and BE SO GOOD THEY CAN’T IGNORE YOU.
Out execute them.
Make them look silly with how fucking awesome you are (and, as a by-product, how NOT awesome they are).
And then go about your life.
That is the adult version of my 5th-grade throat punch.
5th grade was easily one of the worst years of my life.
I still wear the scares.
But I don’t hide them; I use them as reminders to treat people well, feel sorry for those who attack others, and never allow myself or those I care about to live as victims.
Life is painful.
But without the Yang of pain, there cannot be the Ying of pleasure.
What pleasure could my 5th-grade experience provide?
It helped me become anti-fragile.
I view myself as not to be trifled with.
…or at least closer to these than I was before.
To me, that is pleasure.
I hope this helps.
Yours in insurance,
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