A successful person is demanding of oneself, and is ready to handle others’ nonsense
Recently, an accompished trial lawyer colleague said he attended a trial law seminar where the instructor said that he goes too easy on his opponents when they cross the line of propriety.
The following particularly led me over three decades ago consistently to put my foot down against the nonsense of others — whereas sometimes I was inconsistent — whether they be opponents or not:
– First, I demand much of myself for staying on the path of human excellence. Consequently, I am all the more ready to stand up to people when they throw intentional or unintentional feces my way.
– Second, I decided to overcome feeling too unprepared to deal with an assistant manager at a high school era part-time job who taunted me many times about Jewish people and Judaism, including suggesting that a balding man walking past the store had Nair hair removal cream placed in his yarmulke. Within a year, I stood up more consistently and repeatedly to bigoted talk, including to the co-owner of a clothing store where I worked near my college campus who told me to "Go watch the n—-r" when the customer went out of sight — because he told us to watch all customers who went out of sight other than ethnic East Asian people, who he decided are unlikely to steal — around the corner where more of the clothing was on display. I answered "I do not know what that word means," and he was stunned, believing that I may really not have known what the N-word meant.
Compassion is essential always with everyone, starting with ourselves, even when standing up to them. Consider the following story: I am inspired by how a local labor organizer and social justice activist handled one particular racist incident probably over twenty years ago. He and his wife had just moved to a new Maryland town bordering Washington, DC, when one day some neighborhood children rode their bikes past the house calling out "white Nigg–s, white Nigg–s" to the man’s biracial children. Instead of losing his cool at the children, which would have been my first inclination before I first heard this story, this man started talking to the children. He told them he coached a track team, and invited them to join the team. They joined the team, and eventually were fully enamored with him, and stopped spouting the racist script that they had likely heard elsewhere rather than formulating themselves.
As I have written repeatedly, it is empowering for me and my clients for me to be able to talk to everyone the same, without elevating nor minimizing anyone, and certainly without kissing anyone’s butt. This does not mean overlooking when others try to step on me or my clients. When that happens, I take to heart what Master Kan told Grasshopper in Kung Fu, even though the program was a fictional show: "Perceive the way of nature and no force of man can harm you. Do not meet a wave head on: avoid it. You do not have to stop force: it is easier to redirect it. Learn more ways to preserve rather than destroy. Avoid rather than check. Check rather than hurt. Hurt rather than maim. Maim rather than kill. For all life is precious nor can any be replaced."
In other words, the greatest wrestlers wrestle compassionately, where the compassion strengthens rather than weakens them. I do my best to apply the t’ai chi principles of non-anger, non-tension, and powerful softness on the road to harmonizing potentially and actually imbalanced situations, and to listen to and hear what I never would hear otherwise. I am here to harmonize imbalanced situations for my clients and myself; if a minor adjustment is needed to do so, that is great, but if I must unsheathe and skillfully, ethically and lawfully thrust my proverbial sword to harmonize the situation, I will do so.
A client of mine told me that he is so opposed to violence that he would not even be willing to study t’ai chi, which, as an essential component to advancing in t’ai chi requires sparring with opponents. T’ai chi is a martial art, after all. I have never been a pacifist, although I prefer to err on the side of pacifism. None of such erring will ever keep me away from t’ai chi sparring in its literal and figurative senses.
Thanks to such an advanced human as Robert Thurman — a former monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, which shows that current and former monks can find a role for violence when needed to harmonize situations — who acknowledges that we need to carry bows and arrows in case we need them, but with compassion: "The psychology of Love Your Enemies does not just mean ‘Come and trample on us, come kill me, my enemy, oh, yes, I want you to shoot me or something.’ It means I want you to be happy. I’m gonna be happy no matter what… On that basis, I might take your weapon away… I try not to kill you, but I might be forced to do something forceful."
In the end, when we step outside each morning, we need to approach life with balance, neither being paranoid that anyone is out to get us or others close to us, nor naive that all is okay if we do not look out for ourselves and others. In the foregoing regard, I return to the following of among my most important t’ai chi lessons:
– Do not let the opponenet know your intentions when advancing and withdrawing. This in part involves being relaxed — never collapsed nor stiff — and soft, just as water is soft but devastating as a tidalwave, and soft just as air is soft but as devastating as a hurrican or tornado.
– Use no more than three ounces of force in advancing and withdrawing.
– Use fine-tuned fluid adjustments in withdrawing. This is critical in dealing with all of life’s challenges, conflicts and threats.
– In withdrawing, include deflecting, adjusting, and sinking into the legs. Keep the legs strong for this, including correct daily taijiquan practice.
– When pushing, keep connected to your root in the ground. Keep your pushes connected. Practice pushing from a low position to cause the opponent to be pushed upwards and uprooted.
– Relax at all times. Relax and sink into each move. Relax, relax, relax. Practice, practice, practice. Thrive, thrive, thrive.