“Janie, you know everyone hates you here, right?”
I looked up. The boy who said this to me was sitting in the middle of the recording studio. The room went silent. All my classmates immediately stopped talking and their heads swiveled around to look at me.
I gazed at the boy. I barely knew him. I only knew his name because he missed the first week of class because his lung collapsed and he was in the emergency room. I don’t think I’d exchanged one word with him in my entire life.
Everyone’s eyes darted back and forth between me and the boy. A few people cleared out of the middle of the room. There was going to be a fight.
Janie at 13
As long as I can remember, I identified myself as a feminist. If my teacher picked a group of people with more boys than girls, I would accuse them of being sexist. I wanted to be the first woman president. I was angry because I knew I was out of step with my peers and I knew they didn’t respect me. I wanted them to respect me.
Like the good 80’s child that I am, I decided I wanted to learn karate. I wanted to learn how to be physically powerful because I wanted to go through life without worrying about losing in a fight to anyone.
My small town in rural Wisconsin did not have a karate dojo. We had an Aikido dojo. Aikido, for those who don’t know, is purely self-defensive. We didn’t learn fancy punches and kicks. We didn’t learn to flip people over. Instead, we learned how to deflect physical attacks. We learned how to direct an opponent’s energy away from us.
I thought this was bullshit.
This was stupid to wait around for someone to punch you and then to just move their arm away. What was the point of that? If someone had the audacity to come after you, they deserved to be punished. They should have their ass kicked.
I stuck with Aikido for about a year until I started attending a Catholic school out of town and I didn’t have time to keep going. Honestly, I didn’t see the point. It takes forever to advance in the belt system and you don’t learn how to beat the crap out of people, so why bother?
My sensei, Mark Uttech, passed away recently. He fought cancer for a year and lost his battle. He was a kind, good-hearted soul. He always had a mischievous energy about him. I can’t imagine what he was like as a young man because he had an old soul. He was peaceful and accepting of everyone. He encouraged not only non-violence, but non-combativeness.
I intended to go back to the dojo back in 2013. I attended one or two classes, but this was around the time my marriage was falling apart and I had dedicated myself to programming. I deeply regret not being able to learn from him during this time.
Janie at 26
At some point when I was 26 I just got sick of being angry. I had been fighting people my whole life and none of it made any difference. I was tired of battling everyone I knew. I was tired of being pissed off and carrying around my anger. Anger is heavy. Anger is expensive. It takes energy to hate. Everything I did was ineffective. The battles I fought with people left me scarred and did nothing to affect any kind of positive change.
I began to discover Zen Buddhism. I found that I had made a logical fallacy in regards to my interactions with others.
I thought that any time I saw what I perceived to be injustice, it was my duty to go and fight over it. Not every slight needs to be fought over. Not everything is a slippery slope on our way to the Nazis taking away the Socialists. If you make an issue over everything, then really egregious behavior loses its context.
Actions and Reactions
I thought if someone did something I thought was wrong or they challenged me, that it required me to fight them. It’s Newton’s Third Law: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. If you punch a wall with your fist, one of you must break. If you use enough force and commitment, the wall breaks. If you falter, your fist breaks. There is no other way.
Except there is.
Just because someone insults you doesn’t mean you have to fight them. I am saying this a person who has been privileged enough not to be doxxed online or forced to flee my home, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.
Aikido is about redirecting violent energy in a way that renders it harmless. Rather than having a zero-sum game, where either the fist or the wall must break, you can take that energy and direct it in a way that hurts no one.
I know, you think if someone throws a punch at you, it’s your obligation to make sure they never hit you again. If you redirect their fist away from you and neither of you is harmed, they will just keep coming after you. Let them. Keep redirecting their energy and eventually they will stop. They tired themselves out and they don’t get the satisfaction of breaking your face. You don’t stoke their anger by provoking them back by causing them pain. They will grow tired of trying to hurt you and they will leave you alone.
I didn’t have the patience to understand this when I was younger. I was angry and I wanted to set the world on fire. I wanted to burn people. I thought that backing down from a fight made me weak or cowardly. I didn’t realize that it was braver to look an assailant in the face and to decide that you would not let them hurt you or themselves. There is more than one way to win. Winning means you walk away without harm, not that you beat your opponent.
Be the Change You Want To See In The World
I have been asked why I go to conferences. They are a lot of work and they are quite tiring. Why do I go?
I am trying to bring an energy to our community that I would like to see more of. I want everyone to love and accept one another. I want everyone to have an understanding and an empathy about where someone else is coming from.
I spent half of my life learning how to make people feel like shit. Then I spent the other half learning how to make people feel good. Making someone feel good about themselves feels better than destroying someone. It takes more care and effort to build someone up than it does to tear them down.
I want to show everyone that you can be successful without being an asshole. I have contributed a lot of negative energy to the world and I would like to show people that there is another way. There is forgiveness. There is self acceptance. There is understanding. There is peace.
Everyone watched us with baited breath. What would I do? Would I deny it? Would I cry? Would I appeal to them to prove that he was wrong? What would I do?
I smiled at him and said, “I know.”
He looked like I punched him in the face. He looked stunned. He shook his head and cocked it at me, thinking he must have misunderstood me. “You know?”
“Yes, I do.”
“And you don’t care?”
“No, not really.”
He stared at me. Of all the reactions he was expecting, this wasn’t one of them. He didn’t know what to do.
“Well, I just thought you should know that we all hate you.”
Everyone was disappointed. They were looking forward to a fight. They went back to what they were doing. I went back to reading my book. It’s like nothing happened.
As everyone went back about their business, I smiled to myself. I had won.