High Cost

The 1990’s seemed to bring workplace violence to the headlines more than in previous decades. I don’t think it’s because the 90’s were more spectacular, but rather the increase in news outlets and the creation in the early 1990’s of CNN’s 24/7 coverage of the first President Bush’s Kuwait to Iraq campaign.

It changed us from selective consumers of more regional/local news with a smattering of national or international to mass consumers of raw information from anywhere and anytime.

Since our brain doesn’t really distinguish between real experience, dreams, and whatever we’re watching on TV, theaters and the internet, it makes sense that this overwhelming mass of information feels like it’s happening to us right here and now. Think about the last 10 abducted children you saw a news story about – did any of them occur within your state/province? Your region? Your city/town?

Stranger Danger – the fear that parents are imparting to their children, resulting in children being scheduled, chauffeured and followed around by an entourage of parents and caretakers. People do not reason with facts, they reason with emotion and then find facts to shore up that rationalization.

The chances of being in a car accident are far greater than your child abducted by a stranger. Your child is more likely to be abducted by someone you know or are related to. We have come to fear the least likely events and not give much thought at all to the most likely harms. But who wouldn’t really?

Rarer events still happen and that’s what makes them big news. Students shooting their classmates and teachers at school, employee shooting co-workers and managers at work, one person killing most if not all of their entire family. These are not random or ideological like a person who goes to a location that they have no real association with or the people present and then shoot random strangers or detonate a bomb belt.

I’ve long been curious about the moment that a person gives themselves permission to be violent towards another; because I simply don’t understand how one person gives themselves permission to first strike harm – and fatally harm – another; which is much more interesting than the selfish and childish justifications that occur after the fact. The how more than the why.

I think it’s because in 5th or 6th grade, it was the late 1970’s, I have a clear but partial memory of being in a fight with a boy that I had considered a friend. The memory starts with the fight in progress, me and the boy circling each other while a large group of our peers cheered, jeered and egged us on. I have no recollection how we got there, but I knew then that I wanted to end it.

I swung wide, my hand opened rather than closed and my opponent ducked as I expected him to. My plan was not to strike him, but to propel him into the play area’s concrete wall. My open hand landed on the side of his head and between the momentum of his ducking and my pushing, his head made a rather shocking sound when it stopped abruptly at the concrete wall.

I was equally staggered by the wall of sound erupting from the children standing around.The cheering sound washed over me as the echo of his head smacking the concrete slammed into my stomach and I wanted to throw up, to cry, to get away. I breathed deep, it was a terrible thing I did, but I exhaled with relief that it was over.

Except it wasn’t.

The boy kept his feet and shook his head to regain his wits. I could almost see the stars circling his head. He wasn’t bleeding, he looked dizzy.

He returned to the centre of the kids, facing me and held his hands up.

Something inside me broke – I didn’t want my head smashed into any concrete surface and I didn’t want to have to increase the violence in order to avoid that same punishment that I had just meted out. The escalation was to end the conflict, whatever the reason, not to raise the bar and continue.

I remember wondering how I had come to be in the position and I looked around a the spectators, cheering, jeering and screaming for blood. Where these really the same 5th, 6th and 7th graders that I sat in classes with, had known since first grade? When had we changed from kids to bloodthirsty gladiators?

In high school, I prevented more than one bully from beating their intended target because they had no justification for why they should be able to take such actions. But that was the future and this was now.

I stood, breathing hard in the circle of breathless expectation. The hot blooded onlookers, the dizzy and dazed opponent determined to continue – but why totally eluded me – the boy and I were generally friendly – what had brought us to such a brutal moment?

I couldn’t remember then and I don’t remember now – I just knew that I had done the worse that I could imagine – smashed his head hard against the concrete wall and it didn’t stop him – I wasn’t prepared to do more – I had thought that the wall would be compelling enough for him to go down, to stay down, to stop.

But he didn’t.

He got back up and put his hands back up, ready for a new round and under new rules, under no rules.

I breathed in the sweat, the fear, the anger the roar of the crowd lusting for blood.

I dropped my hands and declared that I was not fighting any longer and I walked away. I was heartsick, scared, grown up.

I pushed through the crowd, who turned inward, unable to comprehend this unexpected turn of events.

I walked uphill away from the playground to the playing field – the boy leading the pack against me, demanding that I resume fighting.

One brave and anonymous person raced ahead from the crowd and struck me on the back, then fell back to the safety of the crowd.

I turned to face the goaders and the boy, who seemed less sure of the fight himself, or perhaps, saw this as a face saving out for him if I quit and he remained willing – then that would mean he won without more fighting, right?

I remember feeling tired, older and sad. I didn’t know why we were fighting. Where were the teachers who could end this for everyone, detention seemed so far away and desirable.

I am not fighting anymore. I said and I stood my ground and faced them all until the shifting moved through the crowd, the show was over. There would be no encore.

Only the faithful hopefuls remained as, muttering, they walked away, dispersing the energy, the imperative. Maybe the school bell rang, maybe a teacher finally came by, I don’t recall.

I just don’t recall.