I had what may be considered by some an unusual upbringing. In my formative years, before I reached the age of 18, I was exposed to two very different environments: In one, poverty, violence, and danger were prevalent; in the other one, stability, abundance, and a certain level of privilege (nice neighborhoods, private schools, etc.) was more of the norm.
Those experiences had a profound impact on me. Early on I realized that in many ways we are really a product of our environments. As I moved from the ghetto and ghetto schools to the nice neighborhoods and private schools, back and forth, I developed what I like to think was a heightened ability to not only observe (as in anthropology) the environment around me, but to become aware about how I fit in those environments.
And so when in poverty surrounded by violence and social dysfunction, I noticed how that environment influenced or shaped the behavior of people. When you're talking about not only dealing with poverty, but with the high level of violence and dysfunction in those communities, one must develop certain survival abilities just to make it through the day.
When in times of stability, living in nice neighborhoods, and attending private schools, the challenge for the ghetto kid is to adapt to a more calmer, and safe environment, and to fit in with "polite" society.
Obviously, all this back-and-forth between these two very different environments can be very challenging for several reasons, but for young males the biggest challenge may be that you're always "the new kid in the block." For me that meant that I have to become a street fighter, unwittingly.
In the ghetto, when you are are the new kid in the block and you happen to talk a little different, and do other horrible sins like study, read, get good grades, and not really take on the mannerisms of the streets, you're not going to have that much of a good time...
And that of course meant countless fist-fights (probably hundreds). As that situation became just a fact of life, I learned to adapt to it, to the point that eventually I lost all fear. I have to admit, looking back, that that is definitely not normal, but that was the situation nevertheless.
A typical situation... I would be playing basketball with a group of friends (and family); some real bad-ass kids (4 or 5) would walk up to us and start harassing us, taking the ball from us, and pushing people around. My friends would say, "Okay, let's go, it's not worth it taking on these guys." I would tell them to go ahead and leave, and I would stay behind... Once they were gone, I'll challenge the bullies... "Okay, so you guys are really tough guys; if you are man enough, why don't you fight me one by one? I'll take on all four of you either way, but you are cowards if you can't fight me one by one."
I'll get to my point shortly... Hang in there... It really wasn't a totally crazy thing because as I grew up, and because of the violence around me, I started taking formal self-defense lessons, including boxing and martial arts, but I never flaunted it. I never bullied anybody or picked fights. I was actually kind of a gentle, happy-go-lucky guy.
So anyways, those experiences taught me many lessons about people, at a very fundamental level. If they accepted my challenge and fought me one by one, and stuck to their "word," that taught me a lesson. If they saw I was beating the living shit out of one of them and then decided to jump me, that gave me another insight about character, or the lack thereof.
And so that's how I became to hate bullies, with a passion, to the point that I made a point of bullying the bullies. Now, let me reiterate at this point that I'm strictly talking about my childhood (before I reached the age of 18). Thank God in my entire adulthood I've never been involved in a physical altercation, and I've always been a peaceful person (since then).
But getting back to those crazy times... One of my favorite things to do was to lull the bully into thinking I was intimidated and afraid. Things like this... It's lunch time, I'm at cafeteria across the school playing a video game. This "tough" guy comes over and tells me to get off the machine because he wants to use it. I tell him I just started and that he'll have to wait. He proceeds to push me really hard; there are a quite a few people watching.
This particular guy was a weightlifter and had a pretty bad reputation as a bully. To me, it was a perfect situation. I back off, start telling him I don't want any trouble, he keeps pushing me, looking around to make sure everybody is watching, all the while I already know how the incident is going to end (but he doesn't).
Bullies love it when people are afraid of them; they get more emboldened, and that's why I always played that card... I kept backing down, telling him I don't want any trouble. He finally gets more emboldened and grabs me and tries to do one of those judo moves where he puts his leg behind yours and pushes you hard and you fall hard on the ground.
Thirty seconds later half of the people in the cafeteria had to pull me back after pummeling the guy, to screams of "stop him, he's going to kill him!"
Okay, enough of that... Here's the point: I learned that where you live, the schools you go to, whether you have a nice car, or have to take public transportation, doesn't define who you are as a person. I learned that there are really, really bad people in this world, predators, dishonest, opportunists, who get emboldened when they can fool people, when they can intimidate people, but who are shocked beyond believe when they get punched in the face hard by one who they thought was a prey. Because at the end of the day, they are cowards.
Those lessons I carried with me my entire life, if metaphorically speaking (since again, I don't believe in actually punching anybody in the face, anymore).
And so I learned that honesty, ethics, principles, morality, compassion, justice, and empathy are much more important than money, and privilege.
And I learned that bullies are actually sociopaths, and as such they will prey on people, and will not stop, ever, unless they are made to stop.
There is a sickness in our society. Liars, opportunists, profiteers, and predators have somehow been able to take over the levers of power, on many fronts.
Those who speak truth to power, who try to expose wrongdoing, or stand up for the oppressed, are maligned and marginalized.
In the meantime, posers who are actually looking out for themselves, pretend to be acting in good faith, for the cause, for social justice.
What good is it to say that one values justice, the rule of law, the Constitution, honesty, and above all, the truth, if one is either doing or supporting the exact opposite?
How does one advances the cause for good governance and social justice, while supporting the exact opposite?
What kind of an argument is to say that one must support unethical behavior, cronyism, corruption, the trampling of the Constitution, just because the other guys are worst?
In politics, don't we align with a political party because we believe that party share our values, our ethics, our principles?
Why telling the truth has become such a radical concept? Why are people persecuted, intimidated, maligned, marginalized, just for wanting to speak truth to power?
And what kind of an argument is it to say that "too much truth-telling could do harm to the Party?"
I would argue that it's the other way around. When truth-telling is suppressed, when those who seek to speak the truth are persecuted and maligned, it doesn't only damages the Party, but the whole country.
We must stand together and demand that the truth be spoken, that corruption and malfeasance are exposed. And most of all, we should do these things not thinking about our own selfish reasons, but for the good of the country. Because if we don't stand up to corruption, to lies, to abuses of power, to profiteering, that country will be no longer.
We have clear choices... Either stand with the bullies, with those who peddle lies, misinformation, and false narratives, because it is the easiest path, or we stand with those who speak the truth.
They are out there, David Sirota, Chris Hedges, Jeremy Scahill, Naomi Klein, Cenk Uygur, Lawrence Lessig, Amy Goodman, Bill Moyers, and others, are all truth-tellers. Listen to what they have to say, and join the movement.
Right now, it seems as if the truth-tellers were fighting the bullies--pretty much alone.
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