After 80 years on this planet, I'm in pretty good shape, and I believe it's mostly because I get a lot of exercise insisting upon my right to exist. Whether I'm out on the trail for my morning walk or standing on the sidewalk with a peace sign, Tucson's assorted bullies, who don't experience themselves as such, are a handy aid in my workout—like jump-ropes for a boxer.
The vast majority of Tucsonans are well-meaning folks who have been trained to be "seen, but not heard" and are just as sick and tired of having their "goodness" used against them as I am.
But bullies need to be exposed. And they will be when well-meaning people are heard and seen in action. We have to be ready to be judged as cranky, petty and a pain in the ass. We also have to remember, as products of this world, that there's a little wimp and a little bully in most of us.
Here's this morning's exercise: She's approaching with two cute little dogs, one on a leash and the other running ahead.
"Your dogs are darling," I say, "but this one should be on a leash."
"I know, but she won't hurt you; she's very friendly," she replies, with an implied, "You're being silly."
"I can see that, but I have a sore leg, and I can't be sure what she might do."
The keeper makes no attempt to get the actively friendly dog away from my leg and says, "I think you should mind your own business," as she starts to walk past me.
"Well, this is my business! I've recently had skin cancer surgery ..."
"So what?" she shouts over her shoulder. "I have abdominal cancer!"
Now I had to yell because she was well on her way: "You also have an unleashed dog, and you're extremely impolite!"
I was taught to feel for "the other guy," but we have to stop accepting the behavior of folks who haven't yet learned that we'll all be better off if we have some regard for each other. After all, I didn't have a dog jumping on her abdominal cancer, did I? (A runner who heard our exchange gave me a delighted thumbs-up.)
At a recent protest, I was startled by a young woman who came up behind me on the sidewalk and whizzed past on a bicycle (while the bike lane was right next to us). I shouted, "Get off the sidewalk!" She paid no attention and pedaled through the pro-war bullies who, intimidated by her superior wheel power, wordlessly stepped aside.
In a matter of minutes, she was back again, heading directly toward me. I didn't move. She couldn't believe it, kept coming, and said, "Beep-beep."
I yelled, "Get off the sidewalk!" I stepped aside, stuck out my sign and let her run into that. She shook her head like, "This old woman is crazy," and left.
Nonviolence training: I did not kick her in the spokes.
That girl didn't think of herself as a bully and neither did the woman walking her dog. To them, a bully is somebody who commits a hate crime or a big kid who torments a little kid. After all, it's scary to ride in the bike lane, and the dog was friendly; all well-meaning people have to do is watch out for their dogs and their bicycles, and there would be no problem.
I used to acquiesce to that sort of thing. Most of my life, unaware of the downside of my compliant behavior—"do and say the kindest thing in the kindest way"—I have been a bully enabler.
Not anymore. I apologized for shoving my sign in the face of the disturbed pro-war guy who knocked me off balance. But the big—really big—Marine who, with his bully buddy, was tormenting me and accidentally struck my face, I believe had it coming. I do not know where I got the strength to wrench the sign from that man's hand; I felt like an angry parent taking a toy away from a misbehaving child. I admit that when I saw him taken aback in utter amazement, his shocked expression was a gift I joyfully received.
The police officer said I had the right to defend myself, but that when I started to jump up and down on his pro-war sign, I had gone too far. I agreed and apologized for that part. The kindly officer also informed me that the gentleman would not press charges.
I don't want to hurt anybody, including me. But I'm not going to pray for peace and at the same time allow bullies to imprison our spirits while we wait for the "meek to inherit the Earth."