THE OPPOSITE OF X IS NOT Y, IT IS Q. (Thinktool #17)

Ben Taylor said, elsewhere on this blog: ” I like your Johann Hari connection (I had tweeted this article from other sources with the pull quote

“the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety; it’s human connection.”

(You can find the Hari item, and Ben’s comment by entering ‘Hari’ in the search box over there on the top right. There should be only two results, unless I have mentione JH before and forgotten)

There’s a famous quote from Brian Sutton-Smith:

“the opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression”

I riffed on that, earlier this year, like this:

“the opposite of quirk isn’t cool, it’s oppression”.

(The concept of quirk in playwork comes from Bob Hughes and Penny Wilson.)

It seems to me that this construction is enormously valuable (when it works!).

THE OPPOSITE OF X IS NOT Y, IT IS Q.

Let’s call it the ‘opposite isn’t’ thing. Its fun to do. and bloody difficult.

It seems to me that it depends on a genuine, hard-won insight. It functions like a parable, a zen teaching story, a Mullah Nazrudin story, an Irish joke, a Jewish joke or one of my dad’s stupid stories about a bloke training a monkey. Or a haiku. The thing about haiku is that there are two kinds: the haiku* and the desk haiku. The desk haiku is the haiku you get when, like a columnist with copy to file and a deadline, you sit down and go “Hmm, what shall I write a haiku about”, whereas the haiku* is the kind you get when you witness something fleeting in the world, like a kingfisher, or a fox, or a baby flipping from a cry to a laugh, or a rainbow, or four big lads after closing time crossing the road with great intent shouting “Oi mate, mate, you dropped your wallet.”

This ‘opposite-isn’t’ is a fun thing to play with. Have a go. Here’s mine: “The opposite of employment isn’t unemployment, it’s purposelessness.” Hmm. I’ll gove that 4/10. (I didn’t mean to type Gove, the previous Tory minister of Education, and yet…) It is clearly a desk ‘opposite-isn’t’, not a ‘genuine, hard-won insight’, so only four Marx out of ten.

Over to you, readers.

FOOTNOTE: Haiku*. The temptation is to say ‘original haiku’ or ‘real haiku’ or ‘authentic haiku’. Twas always thus. A distinction emerges, and it changes. It undergoes memetic warping. If we are comfortable with that we might say ‘old-school’. If we aren’t we might say ‘New Labour’ or ‘so-called New Wave’. Stuff happens. you can’t fight it. What you can do is make the distinction, when a distinction is called for.

SECOND FOOTNOTE: just heard this one on Radio 4: “The opposite of truth isn’t lies, it’s euphemism”

KIND THINKER OUT IN THE WORLD: an elegy for Perry Else

KIND THINKER OUT IN THE WORLD

 

Kind thinker, out in

the world, away 

from the white towers; 

down by the riv’r.

Forthright, flexible and firm — 

the three frees.

Living, in the realm

of the possible:

not ‘they should’, only

‘well, maybe we can…’ 

Else we forget, the

value of play

and the value of

his playful life.

Arthur Battram

10:26 AM, Thursday, June 12, 2014, revised 2:02 PM  Friday, September 5, 2014 , and again so the scansion is better Tuesday, September 9, 2014, 2:04 PM.

A fitting obituary is here:

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/people/obituaries/perry-else-1959-2014/2013792.article

REGENERATING THE PUBLIC REALM: Blenders, babysitters and burglars! – connecting neighbours in unexpected ways – Playing Out

“For my street – and the others who have shared their experiences – new and rich connections have grown from sharing time and fun on the street during playing out sessions. And they have changed the way I feel about living here for the better.”

We know more about regenerating a rainforest or a prairie than we do about regenerating the public realm.

We really need to get out more.

And we really need to study more.

PlayingOut, is one neccesary, but—of course—of itself, insufficient condition for this regeneration of  the public realm to take place. Pun placed intentionally!

Read and follow their excellent bloggery.

via Blenders, babysitters and burglars! – connecting neighbours in unexpected ways – Playing Out.

“Work is about a daily search for meaning as well as daily bread…”

As some of you may know, I am a huge fan of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple.

(I still respect him, but I’m no longer a fan of Apple’s products. Not since MacOS 10.4 in 2005. Just so you know I’m not a blinkered fanboy.)

Now, here’s one reason why I rate Jobs, which you can file under: “Insanely Great!” his most famous catchphrase.

When the Mac was produced in 1984, he insisted, at significant extra cost, in having the names of all the engineers who designed it engraved INSIDE the case, where almost nobody would ever see those names. I was lucky enough to see them, because I once watched an engineer remove the casing. (Oh yes, circuit boards can be beautiful, why are most of them ugly?)

You can also file under: respect for the dignity of the work of other human beings.

Which leads me on to my next couple of stories.

Studs Terkel has been described as a historian and a sociologist but he prefers to call himself a “guerrilla journalist with a tape recorder.” He created controversy we’re told when Tony Blair resigned and he asked: “Why was he such a house-boy for Bush?” Studs Terkel died in his Chicago home on 31st October, 2008 at the age of ninety-six. He asked that his epitaph should be: “Curiosity did not kill this cat.”

He said:

“When you become part of something, in some way you count. It could be a march; it could be a rally, even a brief one. You’re part of something, and you suddenly realize you count. To count is very important.”

Working (1974), is his account of people’s working lives. Terkel wrote:

“Work is about

a daily search for meaning

as well as daily bread,

for recognition

as well as cash,

for astonishment

rather than torpor,

in short for a sort of life,

rather than a

Monday-to-Friday

sort of dying.”

This is an edited excerpt from the interview that opens the book:

(Mike LeFevre was thirty-seven in 1972). He works in a steel mill. On occasion, his wife Carol works as a waitress in a neighborhood restaurant; otherwise, she is at home, caring for their two small children, a girl and a boy...

“You don’t see where nothing goes. I got chewed out by my foreman once. He said, “Mike, you’re a good worker but you have a bad attitude.” My attitude is that I don’t get excited about my job. I do my work but I don’t say whoopee-doo.
The day I get excited about my job is the day I go to a head shrinker. How are you gonna get excited about pullin’ steel? How are you gonna get excited when you’re tired and want to sit down? It’s not just the work. Somebody built the pyramids. Somebody’s going to build something. Pyramids, Empire State Building-these things just don’t happen. There’s hard work behind it. I would like to see a building, say, the Empire State, I would like to see on one side of it a foot-wide strip from top to bottom with the name of every bricklayer, the name of every electrician, with all the names. So when a guy walked by, he could take his son and say, “See, that’s me over there on the forty-fifth floor. I put the steel beam in.” Picasso can point to a painting. What can I point to? A writer can point to a book. Everybody should have something to point to.”

~

taken from this PDF which I found on the net,

so you can too: StudyGuide-Working.pdf

A Study Guide Of WORKING

From the Book by Studs Terkel

Adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso

Original Production Directed By Stephen Schwartz

FORT WAYNE CIVIC THEATRE

IN THE WINGS Arts-In-Education Program

PERFORMANCES FOR SCHOOLS

AND SOCIAL SERVICES

Saturday, May 8, 2009 @ 2:00 p.m.

Teacher Tom: Everyone Protecting Everyone

Teacher Tom: Everyone Protecting Everyone.

When the girls came outside, the boys chased the girls chased the boys, wildly, around and around our outdoor space, all flushed and breathing hard, chasing without catching, everyone protecting everyone.”

The way he did it, honestly sharing his opinion, not adding any judgment,and the playful shuttle diplomacy he practiced, is pure playwork.

Shame that many playworkers don’t do it like this.

This is either because they aren’t allowed to, or they haven’t been shown, or, probably, they haven’t been allowed to learn how to.

Reflecting on reflective practice: “A thousand mountain ranges separate the one who reflects from the one who is truly present.”

“A thousand mountain ranges separate the one who reflects from the one who is truly present.”

Photo from: http://www.walkingforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=2750.0

This is a blog about reflective practice, which like Western civilisation, I think would be a very good thing.

I’m quoting Gandhi, who was asked what he thought of Western civilisation, as he stepped off the boat at Southampton wrapped in a sheet, having been a lawyer in South Africa. He replied: “I think it would be a very good idea.”

I’m suggesting that a lot of what passes for reflective practice is nothing of the sort, and yet it so easily could be.

Playworkers make notes in diaries, they keep records. They take photos, to attempt to present their work to others.  Some keep journals, some turn their journals into whole books, like m’esteemed colleague Eduardo Nuttall. Some write whole books, based on the work of a lifetime, or at least a significant chunk of it,  stuffed with observation and reflection – I’m thinking of  luminaries like Perry Else and Saint Bob himself (no offence). Some blog, like moi, and Joel, and Lily and many others. Some don’t do any of that, but they do think, and ponder, and talk about stuff down the pub or over a grotty cup of bad teabag tea in a hut.

But those honourable exceptions aside, often what passes for ‘reflective practice’ is nothing more than a few scrappy notes in an ‘incident book’ or an ‘office diary’, grudgingly scribbled as you rush to go home. Why do we need to write stuff up, we mutter. What’s the point?

Easy for me to criticise, but what am I doing about it?

Good and fair question. I’m currently developing  what I hope will be a new and improved approach to playwork reflective practice. I have started by distinguishing three aspects of the thing I’m pointing at –  avoiding using the term ‘reflective’ or ‘practice’ to avoid association with existing approaches, recognising that this may result in the usage of clumsy neologism, for which I apologise.

These three aspects are:

documentation – the recording of numbers and names and other details, as required by Caesar. “Render unto Caesar that which is Ceasar’s” said a Jewish prophet, and in our context that means: keep the records that your employer requires, for the good reasons that they require it. Chief among those reasons is, most likely, the keeping of funders happy.

promotion – the gathering of photos, and stories, etcetera, for reasons often confused with the above, to wit: to be able – at AGM or conference, or on telly or radio, or in print, be it press, or exhibition – to tell people what you do and why you do it and why it is deserving of their support, financing or involvement, be that as volunteer, worker or committee member or officer.

journaling – the writing of a personal and private journal of your personal reflective practice.  By which I mean recording some of what you observed and thinking about it, and writing down some of your thoughts, and relating them to your work, presumably with the intention of improvement – the making something better. I’m referring to a thing my erstwhile chums in management consultancy call ‘change management’.

(I’m not interested in ‘change management’, I’m interested in ‘improvement management’, which is, admittedly, a subset of change management, but is much harder. Given that change is happening all the time, the real trick is to detect and amplify the beneficial things, while avoiding the bad things and hoping they’ll go away. I say this because if we focus on the bad things, everybody gets upset and the good things get neglected – better to focus on making the already good a little bit better, which is nice and not too challenging for any of us, is it not?)

Anyway, a personal and private journal. Can’t be done in the office dairy because you can’t be yourself in the glare of your office spotlight. What will they think if I write that? I can’t write that, so I don’t, and so I don’t think about it either, which means that I’m self-censoring.  Not a good start. How can I reflect on the unthought and unwritten? Reflection is personal – what do I think about what happened? Not what do the Playwork Principles tell us to think (our very own PCness), nor what my boss wants me to think or do, nor what my mates or colleagues think, or want me to think. And, if it is personal it must be private, initially at least. I can always edit juicy bits for public consumption as part of our promotion or as an extension documentation later.

Hope all that helps. I’ll be piloting this approach soon, and I’ll let you know how it goes, if you’re interested.

This particular peak

Onwards and upwards to the top of this particular peak, which is the consideration of these words:

“A thousand mountain ranges separate the one who reflects from the one who is truly present.”

We don’t know who said this, the only reference we have is ‘Zen saying’.

M’esteemed colleague, Mr Joel Seath, has written about being truly present as a playworker. Bearing witness to the play of children, as our great play theorist* Gordon Sturrock, has it.  He doesn’t blog, so you can’t read him online. Joel does blog, here:

http://playworkings.wordpress.com

What do we mean by being present, by witnessing?
Ben Tawil has a wonderful story about not interfering in play:

A teenaged boy is contemplating a leap from a high tower on an adventure playground. Ben, from a distance, is contemplating the situation. If the boy makes the jump, he will massively injure himself, that much is certain.

You’ll have to ask Ben if you need to know what happened. If you have ever been present, witnessing, you’ll know why you don’t need to know what happened. Of course you want to know what happened, as did I. I’ll ask him, and he might give me his version of the tale, which I can share here.

I know I’m being annoying and obscure: I can’t help it. I don’t have the time or patience to write a longer explanation or a shorter one for that matter•. In any case, this Zen stuff is not about Western-style explanation, it is about Eastern-style contemplation.

And contemplation is another word for reflection.

When I hear the word, I reach for my gun

Now pay attention, dear reader••, as I pick up my Zen gun and shoot myself in my metaphorical foot, by essaying that very Western sin – explaining the unexplainable. I may amuse.

So when we say: “A thousand mountain ranges separate the one who reflects from the one who is truly present.” I think we are saying that reflection is impossible if you have not been present, meaning that if you have not been present in the moment, living it, being there, witnessing everything that is going on, around you and inside you, outside of you and inside your head and your heart. Me, I don’t do that often, and I don’t do it often enough, not by a long chalk. I’m just saying that if you weren’t there, you cannot speak of it, can you?

So I offer you this: the key to reflective practice – key in the sense of opening the door –  is being truly present.

And once the door has been opened, you may or may not choose to step through, of course – that’s up to you.  And if you step through, you may fail to wander very far in the garden of reflection, but it’s a start. I’m exploring that garden myself, so I might bump into you there.

So…

Think on, as my dad used to say.

(Which is, of course, just another way of saying do some reflection.)

efd941a7eecc45aa70c0f924de6750f2

 

Footling footnotes at the foot of the present mountain:

*we have but a few truly great theorists of play: Bob Hughes, Bashō, Gordon Sturrock, Marc Bekoff, to name but a few (boys).**

** oh, and one  token girl: Judith Rich Harris.***

*** oh, alright then, one more girl: Penny Wilson

• A wise man apologised like this for going on at length –  well, I won’t take more time to explain, I’ll just refer you here:

http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/04/28/shorter-letter/

•• reader? I hope for plural.

Disagreement is good: think on…

This link won’t make a lot of sense unless you both value and regularly practice not agreeing with people.

I put it that way to avoid the term ‘disagreement’ which, in these politically correct times, appears to many pale souls to be synonymous with being ‘disagreeable’, which is not.

When did it become fashionable to believe any rubbish?

When did it become stylish not to challenge daft ideas?

When did not agreeing or approving become almost the same as a hate crime?

(And in the case of some causes/issues/groups, when did it ACTUALLY become a hate crime?

I am entitled to my opinion!

(Still, I think – last time I checked)

You can’t learn without disagreement, even if it is disagreeing only with oneself.

And you certainly can’t ‘do reflective practice’ without, at the very least, disagreeing with yourself, and preferably with others.

Have a read, and as we used to say, think on.

“Argument: When losing is winning” http://feedly.com/k/152O0ku

“If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a hyacinth”

By way of a footnote to yesterday’s quote about creativity and art and play and magic, my page-a-day calendar today told me:

“If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a hyacinth.”

It claims that this is a ‘Persian proverb’.

Hmmm, that’s what you say if you don’t really know, isn’t it? So I googled. Of course there is dispute, with some muddle-headed folk attributing it the Koran and Mohammed, and others to Elbert Green Hubbard (June 19, 1856 – May 7, 1915)  an American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher (Wikiepeed).

The choice of hyacinth is a  clue, it’s a plant that operates as a madelaine* for me, my mum always had them on the window sill in the early 60s. Obviously not native to the UK, so let’s investigate… hmm, native to Turkey, Israel and the North-East corner of Iran. And not America. Hah – major clue..

More googlage:

“If, of thy mortal goods, thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store two loaves
alone to thee are left,
Sell one & from the dole,
Buy Hyacinths to feed the soul”
– Muslihuddin Sadi,
13th Century Persian Poet

(APB: Very Omar Khayyám )

“If I had but two loaves of bread
I would sell one of them
& buy White Hyacinths to feed my soul.”
– Elbert Hubbard
(1856-1915)

(APB: I prefer the simplicity of my calendar’s version.)

Found here on this lovely blog:

http://www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_journal_individual.asp?blog_id=5251068

Do follow the link to a lovely story of two people who love each other and a kindly florist. In my experience, most florists are lovely. I suppose you have to be: births, deaths, marriages. Must be tough haggling down the wholesale market, though.

So I think that is definitive.  Lazy writers half-remembering ‘Muslihuddin’ as ‘Mohammed’ and a DWM**, USA variety, riffing on it.

So:

“If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a hyacinth.”

I like that very much.

Reminds me of an observation, which in a similar lazy way I’m going to attribute to Eno, because I’m half-remembering him talking about Sarajevo during the Serb bombing and watching a smartly dressed woman in her mid-thirties in high heels, picking her way along the rubble-strewn remnants of pavement on her way to the shops, as shots rang above her head*****.

Life without beauty? We’d rather die.

Eno was in what was then Yugoslavia to record sessions with U2 and Pavarotti (I know, weird), which produced, inter alia, the sublime ‘Miss Sarajevo‘. Spotify it, music fans: yes it contains opera, yes it is brilliant.

Pause as I go find the track. Easy, the CD was where I thought it was. Great opening to the chorus from the Bonio***, who isn’t afraid to reference and steal from the greats: “Here she comes”. The vibe of the song is very much the Velvets on the first album – think “I’ll be your mirror“, or ”Sunday morning”. There is a Velvets’ song, nagging at the back of my brain which has the specific phrase ‘here she comes’ but… no,  can’t catch it. And ‘G-l-o-r-i-ay’ by Van Morrison. Lots of fine songs about fine women walking down streets, oddly enough, eh? The other reference point, leaving the worst until last, is of course the bathetic “Doo Wah Diddy” by Manfred Mann and the Manfreds, possibly the most simultaneously egotistical and unimaginative of the 60s ‘person and the nouns’ style of group naming: “Here’s she comes, just a-walking down the street, singing doo wah diddy dum diddy do.…” And might I add: ‘zig a zig ah’, which I’m told is the Serbian for ‘couldn’t be bothered to think of a better lyric’.  (Hey, hey we’re the Manfreds, people say we’ve got a crap name…)

OK, let’s find out more about the song, the politics and the history.

Some time later.

I’ve always loved the lyrics, and I’m pleased to discover, thanks to Wikipedia, that Bonio*** says the song is his favourite. I think it might be his best, praise be to Eno. Great tune, killer arrangement, and superb, clever, twisty lyrics.  Love the way he plays with ‘beauty queen’ and turning to Mecca****, for example. It’s probably too much to claim his words are Joycean, but they are sharp, profound, surreal and allusive, loving and dark. It is worth reading the whole lyric, find it here:

http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Miss-Sarajevo-lyrics-U2/F599D4161F63665F48256896002E7E49

It’s also worth reading the wikipedia entry about the song, from which I pulled this quote:

“… the dark humour of the besieged Sarajevans, […] surrealism and Dadaism are the appropriate responses to fanaticism…”

Characteristics obviously reflected in Bono‘s lyric. Well done, dubliner.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Sarajevo

So …

“If you have two loaves of bread, sell one and buy a hyacinth.” 

That’s nothing if not surreal.

Why not tulips or daffodils? Good question. They don’t grow in Persia, and they don’t usually come in a pot- so they don’t persist, unlike the hyacinth. You can save a bulb after it has flowered, letting the leaves soak up the sun’s energy, and at the end of the summer you can store it, for a new bloom next spring. A hyacinth is a sweetly-scented investment for a poor person who has a small glut of bread and is desirous of both beauty and a bargain. And Yugoslavia is not that far from Persia, on opposite edges of our Middle East.

Indeed:

“Surrealism and Dadaism are the appropriate responses to fanaticism.”

s-hiya synth 1

~

I persist here;

in Cameron’s blighted

and pleasant

land.

I’m off to the shops

now –

I’m lucky:

I have bread;

and I must buy

a hyacinth.

~

~

~

~

FOOTNOTARY (PUBLIC):

*Google it, and the word Proust, dear younger readers.

**Dead White Male.

***Yes, of course I know his name is really Bono. Well actually it isn’t, it says ‘Paul David Hewson’ on his birth certificate (thanks, Maggie at the Dublin registrar’s office).

****Mecca: in the 60s we knew Mecca as merely the name on the front of bingo halls and ballrooms. The Mecca organisation puts on Miss World. C’mon, smile.

*****’Shots rang above our heads’. Firstly this is a true story, and there really were snipers on the roof tops. She really was in mortal danger. Fuck you, Death, I’m going shopping. Sometimes Death backs off out of respect, and she persists. Secondly, well spotted, yes, I’m making partial quotage from ‘Heroes’ on the second of Bowie’s trio of Berlin albums – not produced by Eno, as media tart and poet Simon Armitage, in a radio show about Oblique Strategies last week had it, but by the criminally-sidelined Tony Visconti, who produced the majority of Bowie’s oeuvre, sleevenote fans. Such a great line, those shots ringing overhead from other  totalitarian and different circumstances.

________________________________

AUTHOR’S NOTE TO VISITORS: a tedious note from a writer who craves courtesy and receives it from the vast majority of his lovely followers: please note that I have changed my copyright and now require you to seek my permission to republish my work. Drop me a line, I will usually say yes: arthur.battram.plexityATgmail.com

(You’ll have to copy that email and replace the AT with @ . If I didn’t do the AT thing, my email would be harvested by spammers. Sorry for the inconvenience).

My favourite A.S.Neill anecdote: if it featured a car, I could have called it ‘Cars and Girls’

Here’s my favourite Neill anecdote, told in my own words. It works like a stun grenade lobbed into the ivory tower of pedagogy and pediatric development, I reckon.

I’d like a snappy title: how about this:

“MANUAL WORK IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL”

Once there was a boy at Summerhill who could not read. Teachers were concerned about him, and wanted to help. Neill said, calmly and firmly: “No.”

The years went by and the boy –  still utterly illiterate and fast approaching his final year of school – wanted a motorbike: the key to his freedom to roam the leafy lanes of East Anglia, and the key to meeting GIRLS in the nearest town, several miles away.

That summer, as he turned sixteen (and became eligible for a provisional license to legally ride a 50cc motorcycle), he  discovered a rusting moped in a hedge.  He dragged the wreck back to Summerhill and set about restoring it. He scrubbed and cleaned until it gleamed.  Of course it wouldn’t go. It would need masses of mechanical and electrical know-how to get it going, if this were even possible.

So he went to Neill, they all called him Neill, and knocked quietly on the half-open door of Neill’s study, clutching the Haynes manual for the Honda 50, and asked: “ Neill , please will you teach me to read this?”

And Neill said, calmy and firmly:

“Yes.”

§

 

Thanks to Joel, for evoking this with your blog, to be found here:

http://playworkings.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/comparisons-of-some-early-twentieth-and-early-twenty-first-century-thinking-about-children/#respond

Start your reading about Neill here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._S._Neill

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/apr/23/leila-berg

(I think I would have first heard of Neill by reading an article in New Society by Leila Berg)

Even the sports guys think there is not enough play and too much testing

 

child-custody

“I told a friend today that it’s time to take a stand. Here is that stand.

“I have been an advocate for, and more importantly a community worker in Active Play for quite a few years now, and have worked in a number of capacities.  Because of that, I have had the opportunity to watch our advocacy develop in the context of physical education, sports performance, the so called “obesity crisis”, and the push for academic “excellence”.”

Above and Beyond

 

“During this time, there have been herculean efforts made to justify ”moderate to vigorous physical activity” for kids and teens in terms of things like “productivity”, “test scores”, and “health”.  All you have to do is look at the terminology.  It is clinical and measurable.  That’s what I keep having to justify play against – clinical and measurable.  I will submit to you during this article that play can’t compete with measurable on it’s turf, but measurable is no match for LIVING.”

 

 

Go read it!

 

http://www.drkwamebrown.com/above-and-beyond/

 

 

 

 

 

THE ART OF HELPING: Why is he drunk? What should I do? What I? What do?

subjaptrain

THE TRAIN CLANKED and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a drowsy spring afternoon. Our car was comparatively empty – a few housewives with their kids in tow, some old folks going shopping. I gazed absently at the drab houses and dusty hedgerows.

At one station the doors opened, and suddenly the afternoon quiet was shattered by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man staggered into our car. He wore laborers clothing, and he was big, drunk, and dirty. Screaming, he swung at a woman holding a baby. The blow sent her spinning into the laps of an elderly couple. It was a miracle that the was unharmed. Terrified, the couple jumped up and scrambled toward the other end of the car. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the old woman but missed as she scuttled to safety. This so enraged the drunk that he grabbed the metal pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion. I could see that on of his hands was cut and bleeding. The train lurched ahead, the passengers frozen with fear. I stood up.

I was young then, some 20 years ago, and in pretty good shape. I’d been putting in a solid eight hours of aikido training nearly every day for the past three years. I like to throw and grapple. I thought I was tough. Trouble was, my martial skill was untested in actual combat. As students of aikido, we were not allowed to fight.

“Aikido,” my teacher had said again and again, “is the art of reconciliation. Whoever has the mind to fight has broken his connection with the universe. If you try to dominate people, you are already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it.”

I listened to his words. I tried hard I even went so far as to cross the street to avoid the chimpira, the pinball punks who lounged around the train stations. My forbearance exalted me. I felt both tough and holy. In my heart, however, I wanted an absolutely legitimate opportunity whereby I might save the innocent by destroying the guilty.

This is it! I said to myself, getting to my feet. People are in danger and if I don’t do something fast, they will probably get hurt. Seeing me stand up, the drunk recognized a chance to focus his rage. “Aha!” He roared. “A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!”

I held on lightly to the commuter strap overhead and gave him a slow look of disgust and dismissal. I planned to take this turkey apart, but he had to make the first move. I wanted him mad, so I pursed my lips and blew him an insolent kiss.”All right!” he hollered. “You’re gonna get a lesson.” He gathered himself for a rush at me.

A split second before he could move, someone shouted “Hey!” It was ear splitting. I remember the strangely joyous, lilting quality of it – as though you and a friend had been searching diligently for something, and he suddenly stumbled upon it. “Hey!”

I wheeled to my left; the drunk spun to his right. We both stared down at a little old Japanese. He must have been well into his seventies, this tiny gentleman, sitting there immaculate in his kimono. He took no notice of me, but beamed delightedly at the laborer, as though he had a most important, most welcome secret to share.

“C’mere,” the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk. “C’mere and talk with me.” He waved his hand lightly. The big man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman, and roared above the clacking wheels, “Why the hell should I talk to you?” The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter, I’d drop him in his socks.
The old man continued to beam at the laborer. “Whatcha been drinkin?” he asked, his eyes sparkling with interest.

“I been drinkin sake,” the laborer bellowed back, “and it’s none of your business!” Flecks of spittle spattered the old man.

japanese-persimmon“Oh, that’s wonderful,” the old man said, “absolutely wonderful! You see, I love sake too. Every night, me and my wife (she’s 76, you know), we warm up a little bottle of sake and take it out into the garden, and we sit on an old wooden bench. We watch the sun go down, and we look to see how our persimmon tree is doing. My great-grandfather planted that tree, and we worry about whether it will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree had done better than I expected, though especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. It is gratifying to watch when we take our sake and go out to enjoy the evening – even when it rains!” He looked up at the laborer, eyes twinkling.

As he struggled to follow the old man’s conversation, the drunk’s face began to soften. His fists slowly unclenched. “Yeah,” he said. “I love persimmons too.” His voice trailed off.

“Yes,” said the old man, smiling, “and I’m sure you have a wonderful wife.”

“No,” replied the laborer. “My wife died.” Very gently, swaying with the motion of the train, the big man began to sob. “I don’t got no wife, I don’t got no home, I don’t got no job. I am so ashamed of myself.” Tears rolled down his cheeks; a spasm of despair rippled through his body.

Now it was my turn. Standing there in well-scrubbed youthful innocence, my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness, I suddenly felt dirtier than he was.

Then the train arrived at my stop. As the doors opened, I heard the old man cluck sympathetically. “My, my,” he said, “that is a difficult predicament, indeed. Sit down here and tell me about it.”
I turned my head for one last look. The laborer was sprawled on the seat, his head in the old man’s lap. The old man was softly stroking the filthy, matted hair.

As the train pulled away, I sat down on a bench. What I had wanted to do with muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had just seen aikido tried in combat, and the essence of it was love. I would have to practice the art with an entirely different spirit. It would be a long time before I could speak about the resolution of conflict.

Terry Dobson

”I found this on the web, but it closely follows “A Kind Word Turneth Away Wrath” by Terry Dobson in ‘Aikido and the New Warrior’ edited by R. S. Heckler. The book chapter reads better; what follows sounds like a early draft. —SAP

and I found it here, says APB:

http://omlc.ogi.edu/aikido/talk/others/dobson.html

DEAR OTHER PARENTS AT THE PARK: Please do not lift my daughters to the top of the ladder, especially after you’ve just heard me tell them I wasn’t going to do it for them and encourage them to try it themselves

”I am not sitting here, 15 whole feet away from my kids, because I am too lazy to get up. I am sitting here because I didn’t bring them to the park so they could learn how to manipulate others into doing the hard work for them. I brought them here so they could learn to do it themselves.“

WOW. The only thing that stopped me just quoting the whole thing is blogettiquette – you MUST read every word of this!
http://alameda.patch.com/blog_posts/please-dont-help-my-kids

About a year ago I chided another playwork blogger for entertaining, or at least implying, that helping children is part of what we do as playwork people. This far better expresses my perspective than my querulous commenty bloggage of last year.

So I must reluctantly confine myself to a few choice quotes, those perhaps most pertinent to people who work with other people’s children:

”It is not my job to keep them from falling. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that falling is possible but worth the risk, and that they can, in fact, get up again.“

”I want my girls to know the exhilaration of overcoming fear and doubt and achieving a hard-won success.“

”I want them to believe in their own abilities and be confident and determined in their actions. “

”I want them to accept their limitations until they can figure out a way past them on their own significant power.“

”I want them to feel capable of making their own decisions, developing their own skills, taking their own risks, and coping with their own feelings.“

”I want them to climb that ladder without any help, however well-intentioned, from you.“

Read the whole thing –  maybe even memorise it and quote it next time somebody asks you “why?” – read it here:

http://alameda.patch.com/blog_posts/please-dont-help-my-kids