Friday, November 13, 2015

Failure to Protect

When I was in college living abroad, I took some self-defense classes by a short little harmless-looking man I'll call The New Yorker. He had grown up in America, but had spent many years in the IDF, training soldiers in one-on-one combat. I don't know exactly how many years, or precisely what his job title was; he was the kind of man who kept many secrets...the kind of secrets I was safer off not knowing.
It was an honor to be trained at all by him. Those few lessons he gave me were a precious gift.
I don't remember anymore most of the maneuvers he taught me. But I do remember one moment quite well:
He asked me to punch him. I could not. He asked again; I hit, feebly.
"Don't hit me like I'm attacking you," he said. "Hit me like I'm attacking your kid."
The ploy worked. I hit much harder. Not hard enough to do him any damage whatsoever, of course...but he smiled at my efforts, which meant a lot.
Years later, back in the States, I was helping a friend shape up for a karate class. She tried to swipe a kick at the sandbag I was steadying for her, but I could tell she was holding back.
"Don't think of it like you're defending yourself," I said. "Think of it like you're defending your kid."
"But I don't have any kids," she said.
"Then your best friend," I said.
The ploy worked, and she kicked the bag much harder.
We are often able to let go of things done to us. When someone says nasty shit to us or about us, we're able to put it into perspective, realize the jerk is just being, well, a jerk, and move on.
It's harder to move on so quickly when the shit being stirred about surrounds a friend. Our urge is often to protect; we go all MamaBear on the asshole who dares to harm our loved one. We say things, and do things, we would never do to defend ourselves.
The problem is that by giving into this need to protect our friends—whom we often think of as family—we take away their ability to protect themselves. We scream on their behalf, and take away their voice. We choose who should know their story, and take away their choice. We guard them against further harm, and in so doing, trap them in place...making it impossible for them to move on.
When a friend is hurt, the thing to do is to listen to what they need. Sometimes they don't need anything else but for someone to listen.
And sometimes, yes, they will ask you for your support as they speak out. Sometimes this support is not so easy to give; sometimes it may cost you dearly. It is a choice whether you can emotionally, and psychologically, afford it.
I once failed to support a friend when she spoke out against her abuser. I regret that decision to this day; it still haunts me. I have long since forgiven any person who ever violated my consent in the kink community, but I cannot forgive this man who harmed her.
She, meanwhile, has moved on completely from this man. He no longer has any sort of hold on her life.
This is the way of it sometimes. We can forgive those who try to harm us, but we cannot forgive those who harm the people we love.
The people we often need to forgive are not those who would do our friends and family harm. It is ourselves we need to forgive, for failing to protect them.

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