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April 29th, 2011


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03:13 am - Musings On A Surprising Revelation About Myself
Yesterday, I was talking with Becca about an incident that happened to me 11 or 12 years ago, and realized that I hadn't mentioned it to anyone who didn't know me back then. I was walking up to see my friends Aaron and Daire, and was standing on the corner about to walk down their street. I had previously noticed that the house across the street from that corner had several Rottweilers that were mostly kept indoors. The house didn't have a fenced yard, and so I had only seen the dogs looking out through windows, on leashes, or (as was the case on that day) looking out through a screen door that had some sort of gate, so that the bottom half was closed, but the top half was open.

I thought nothing of this, until a short, skinny, and remarkably meek-looking individual walked by that house and all three dogs bounded out over the gate and surrounded him. His eyes got very large and he froze, clearly looking really terrified. Then, around 5 or 6 seconds later the dogs' owner came out and yelled at the dogs to get inside, which they cheerfully did – at this point it was clear that none of the three dogs were at all aggressive and the worst fate the guy they surrounded might have faced was an overly fierce licking.

However, the surprising part was what I did – by the time the owner came out, I had grabbed a real-estate sign, was holding it in both hands, and was literally on the verge of rushing across the street to try to drive off the dogs – I already had one foot on the street. Absolutely no thought had gone into this decision. Neither of the two people across the street noticed me. I stood there for a moment and considered what I had been doing - upon examination the sign consisted of cardboard stapled to a thin board about the width and thickness of a wooden ruler, making it a very dubious weapon, but also well better than nothing.

I was very pleased that my instincts had been to grab a weapon and was fairly surprised that my instinct was to almost instantly rush to a complete stranger's defense. I definitely don't think of myself as that sort of person, but this is the only incident where I've been put in a position like that, and I most definitely am. I like to think that if the risk was substantially greater – instead of dogs there was a person with a gun or a house completely engulfed in flames, that I would not put my life seriously at risk in an unthinking attempt at heroism.

In any case, that's one of the few moments in my life where my reactions genuinely surprised me. I know that I enjoy helping people I care about and in a mild crisis, like a car overheating or an overturned canoe in relatively shallow, but very cold water, I react well, especially if there is someone I care about who is dealing with the situation less well. However, I rarely interact with strangers in anything but fairly formalized circumstances, like dealing with clerks in a shop, but I definitely have the impulse to help others. Alice was a bit surprised about this incident, and Becca's comment to her about this and about me was perhaps quite accurate "John says he only really concerns himself with people he knows and cares about, but it looks more like he only really concerns himself with people he cares about and people who he can immediately see." [[1]]

So, what unexpected revelations have any of you learned about yourselves?

[[1]] Except in the sense that I wish everyone to have a good and happy life and for the state to make certain that no one lacks for their basic needs
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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[User Picture]
From:rjgrady
Date:April 29th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
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When I was twelve, I was left at the house with my step-brother (my age) and my younger brother. My step-brother thought it would be funny to sneak out the back door and scare us by coming in through the window. When I heard the sound, I became terrified. I was so scared I thought I would puke, I had no idea a life-or-death situation would feel like that. But I nonetheless picked up an aluminium baseball bat, stood to one side of the window and prepared to make my stand. When my step-brother popped his head in, I stopped the bat inches from his head. I had the realization I had nearly killed my step-brother. If he had been a real burglar, I probably would have taken him out clean, and if my brother had been a little more reckless or I more scared, a terrible accident would have occured. I remember thinking, "That totatlly would have been on him." There really has never been a year of my life when I haven't continued to gain small insights from that strange and terrifying moment. There are places in the world today where 12 year olds fight for survival, or in wars... I am confident that I would likely be among the survivors. But what a monster I might have been, without the benefit of living in a basically prosperous, humanistic society, with a family who loves me, and acess to books and movies that illuminate a beautiful way to live. So I am grateful. And from time to time, I scare myself a little, seeing myself in double, both the decent person I know myself to be, and the mentally prepared killer I know I can be when I need to be.

The other thing that sticks in my mind is about three years ago. Isaac was not yet three. I stayed up late working on a term paper. about eleven, I tried to go to bed, but he was still awake. He threw a tantrum. Alison was already in bed. I stayed up with him until nearly 3 before he calmed down. Then I got up at 6:30, went to class and turned in my paper, then heading off to take a final exam in a different class I had scarcely studied for. I learned, basically, that I am an awesome dad who would and could just about anything when my children need me, and also that if I really need to take a final exam on three hours of sleep and not enough studying, well, I'm up for it... These are new developments. I am happy to say how much parenthood has changed, tempered, and improved me. I am stronger in spirit now than I ever have been, because parenthood has forced me to find my limits, and to show my values in what I do when what is asked of me is not easy. I didn't have that fortitude, not as a teenager, maybe not even in my late 20s.
[User Picture]
From:seika
Date:April 29th, 2011 05:10 pm (UTC)
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But what a monster I might have been, without the benefit of living in a basically prosperous, humanistic society, with a family who loves me, and acess to books and movies that illuminate a beautiful way to live. So I am grateful. And from time to time, I scare myself a little, seeing myself in double, both the decent person I know myself to be, and the mentally prepared killer I know I can be when I need to be.

There's nothing monstrous about self-defense, imo. There's no need to make a leap from "I could do what I have to to survive" to "oh no, I could be a cold-blooded killer who could commit atrocities." The real atrocity would be that you were in a situation that forced you to defend yourself in the first place.
[User Picture]
From:rjgrady
Date:April 29th, 2011 05:14 pm (UTC)
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A life of warfare, without the anchor of a conscience formed from ideas, is not conducive to human development. Clearly, there is nothing alien or inhuman about the multitudes of people who do commit atrocities; I don't believe my DNA is so different.
[User Picture]
From:seika
Date:April 30th, 2011 04:36 am (UTC)
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I agree completely, but "I would be a monster" is still a bit much of a leap. The idea that you'd efficiently defend yourself without hesitation in no way leads to the idea that you'd take unfair advantage of anyone else (assuming that's what you mean by "monster", since you used the word to begin with).

Edited at 2011-04-30 04:38 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:seika
Date:April 29th, 2011 05:07 pm (UTC)
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Hmm... I know that I can't function well under pressure; I do my worst when I'm taking a test or trying to demonstrate something to people. I'm also prone to panic attacks. So it's a bit of a surprise to realise that in an actual crisis such as a car accident, I'm the calmest person on the scene. I tend to be not scared at all, but just practical. That doesn't mean I can think in sudden chaos to do the right thing; it just means it's stray thoughts and cultural gunk, not emotion, that's getting in my way.
[User Picture]
From:dancinglights
Date:April 29th, 2011 05:40 pm (UTC)
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I'm exactly the same way. I tend to think of it as my brain constantly generating worse-case situations and iterating over possible solutions, no matter how far-fetched or distractingly detrimental to daily life the approach may be. But then when physical crisis situations hit, I am on some base level not delayed by the shock/surprise reaction most people who *don't* anxiously replay stuff All The Time seem to have (and some current research in anxiety and personality types seems to agree.)

The issue for me is how draining it is *afterward*; for all of my calm handling of emergencies, I'm often a mess that needs to be taken care of myself later, and thus couldn't manage fire/rescue/emt/ER-tech career paths.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:seika
Date:April 30th, 2011 04:37 am (UTC)
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Actually, I seem to be just completely unaffected. I'm not bothered later.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
From:kitten_goddess
Date:April 30th, 2011 01:37 pm (UTC)
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I have learned I am slightly Islamaphobic. I am comfortable being around Muslims at work. The sight of a woman wearing a full abaya/chador/burqa complete with full face veil does not freak me out. I am fully aware that Muslim terrorists are few and far between and in no way represent the majority of Muslims.

My Islamaphobia is much more subtle. When a friend of mine mentioned visiting an Islamic museum, I became uncomfortable. I feared I would be expected to cover my hair, which would be difficult for me since I do not own a hijab and have lots of very long, thick hair. It took my friend five minutes to calm me down. She repeatedly explained that I did not have to cover my hair, because we were not visiting a mosque, but a museum. I just assumed that all Muslims would be severely offended if a woman went into any Muslim space without covering her hair and otherwise conforming to Islamic behavior codes.


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