I don't want you to think I was a wimp or anything. I just didn't believe in fighting.
Which sort of made my friend, Albert, nuts.
"I don't know why you're afraid to fight," Albert said after I pinned him — again — during one of our playful wrestling matches. "You're the biggest guy in the school. Nobody could beat you."
“Chris could, maybe," I said. "And Chuck. I wouldn't want to fight Chuck."
“Yeah, but Chuck's your friend," Albert argued. "Chris is the only one you'd have to worry about, and I think you could take him if you get him down on the ground and sit on him."
“I don’t know," I said. "I don't like Chris, but I don't have a reason to fight him."
“Who needs a reason?" Albert said. "Fight him because he's a creep."
Albert had a point. In retrospect, I can see why Chris was the way he was — troubled childhood and all of that. But from the limited perspective of the sixth grade, the only thing that mattered was what we saw and understood. And we saw and understood that Chris was a creep.
But somehow, that wasn't enough for me. At least, it wasn't enough to risk the pain — and possible humiliation — of fighting him.
"OK, let's say I fight him and beat him," I said. "Chris will still be a creep. Only now he'll be a mad creep. I don't think that's going to help any."
"Maybe not," Albert said. "But at least he'll know that you're tougher than him."
And that's what it always boiled down to in those days: who is tougher. That was important to some boys, I guess, but it wasn't important to me. It just seemed like a stupid reason to get your nose bloody. Which is why I never got around to fighting Chris. In fact, I made it all the way through grade school without fighting anyone.
Albert and I were walking home from school on the last day of sixth grade when we saw David pushing around Steven, Albert's skinny, scrawny little brother. Life hadn't been kind to David. Nor had those of us who were his age, which may be why he was taking out his frustrations on a third-grader. But I didn't stop to think about the sociological implications of David's actions. I just reacted — quickly and proportionately — to perceived creepiness.
It wasn't much of a fight, really. Although we were the same age, I had about the same size advantage over David as he had over Steven. I pulled him off the smaller boy and pushed him to the ground. He stood up and I pushed him down again. This process was repeated several times until David finally got the point. He stayed on the ground and told me to leave him alone.
"OK," I said. "But if I ever catch you picking on little kids again ... "
I didn't have to finish the threat. He understood.
"I thought you didn't believe in fighting," Albert said as we walked away.
"I don't," I said. "But I don't believe in letting kids get picked on either. And I guess I don't believe in that more than I don't believe in fighting."
I wish I knew if my bullying of David actually deterred him from bullying others. It might help me figure out how I feel about the current controversy over proposed retaliatory actions in Syria. I hate the thought of war, which could easily be incited by the action. But I hate even more the thought of defenseless victims — including children — being chemically brutalized. Part of me wants to rush in and push whoever is responsible to the ground — again and again until they get the point. But another part of me wonders: Does the end justify the means? Will it atone for the loss of so many victims? And will it advance the cause of peace?
As is so often the case, I don’t have a lot of answers. Heck, I’m not sure I even know what all the right questions are. I just keep thinking about bullies and fighting.
And wondering if one ever really solves the other.
(To read more by Joseph B. Walker please go to www.josephbwalker.com.)