Carrot and Stick
It started, I was attempting to explain, in an abbreviated manner, that I was — I wound up in a severe military school, as an older child because, although I tested well, off the charts with superior intellect, I had zero social skills, no game, and little understanding of formal education. There’s probably an acronym and medication these days. Back then? They beat us. Worked, after a fashion.
This was the bad, old days, back when I wasn’t called a “Child with behavioral issues,” but the more salubrious euphemisms for “Screw-up.” Not uncommon characteristics for those of us with (supposedly) high IQ and active imaginations — and an occasionally loose grip on reality.
In that formal setting, after failing to break free from the constraints of the system, I learned disciple. Didn’t come quickly or easily, and that was the tail-end of an era where sheer physical pain was a considered a learning enhancement.
Eventually gave rise to a favorite motto,
“The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
A dozen years went by. Maybe more. I was living in Austin, and happened across an old buddy from that school. In school? He was built like a fire-hydrant, which is an apt metaphor as he kept a lot of water — emotions — tightly controlled in a solid-steel frame. He was the original, “Go ahead, hit me,” type. Not really an alpha, but succeeding at playing it because that role worked as a survival mechanism.
In the intervening years, my hair got long, and he gained a lot of weight. He was no longer a lean, washboard stomach, more like the image I use for the Buddha, which, in fact is really the happy monk, not the Buddha. But from an aggressive, overly male, alpha-dog posture to the fat, happy buddha?
Austin used to do that to people.
Last I heard, he was back in New Mexico, living a partially spartan existence on the edge of the desert as a new-age old-time frontiersman.
As an occasionally garrulous old man, he was the very person, years after school — best of my recollections — who suggested Marcus Aurelius Meditations. I was using the Shakespeare quotes frequently by then, so I was able to make the leap from Marcus Aurelius to Shakespeare as a secular canon from which one can draw material and (usually) not offend the masses.
My buddy was licensed in California and Texas as a mental health provider, at one time, and he held advance degrees in those specialties. He was also a former USMC officer. USMC — military police — scooping up drunk marines in Southern Cal., at one time.
That, my friends, is the very definition of bad-ass.
Don’t forget, this is the person introduced me to the Stoic Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, and that has continued to shape my thinking, to this day.
Carrot and Stick
We did spend part of afternoon, back in old Austin, discussing my work, and what I did. We compared notes about the intuition aspect of the work, and he likened it to some of his martial arts training, having to do with perception of a threat. The way I recall the paradigm?
My buddy described a situation wherein he was being teased by a group of young, let’s just call them “Hooligans.” His “date” wondered why he didn’t go over there and just beat them all up. As my buddy explained, there was no real threat. No need to send innocent characters just being rambunctious, no desire to send them to the hospital over some silly words. Besides, he had already assessed the threat, and determined it was not serious.
He went on the elaborate how, in training, a sensei — which I think he was in all modesty — would stand before the student and the master would make to strike the student with a bamboo pole. The student’s learning was when the pole would connect and when it was a feint, and only react to real threats. Apparently, the students get hit over the head with the mock bo staff a few time before learning to discern between real and imaginary threats.
My buddy’s message was about learning to listen to the correct voice, heeding the right warnings, and not getting hit with the stick.
Yeah, Will Rogers, collected in Pink Cake, I think?
“There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”
Carrot and Stick
Carrot and Stick, what’s it going to be?Two-Meat Tuesday Marcus Aurelius (Loeb Classical Library) Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library)