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Home > Columns > Ross Robertson > November, 2004 - Kindness as Self Defense
by Ross Robertson

Kindness as Self Defense by Ross Robertson


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Many in aikido are drawn to it for its emphasis of mutual protection. Some "Nice-Guy" types are perhaps tired of getting the short end of the stick, and need to learn some spiritual muscle without sacrificing their self-image. Others may have played the dominance and control game long enough to be tired of it, and are looking for methods of sharing power rather than perpetuate win/lose defaults. Some people may instinctively have a life-long habit of serving mutual interests, but are happy to finally find a discipline that augments their inherent disposition.

We may generally agree that treating others with kindness is a good thing. But it's always a bonus to realize that we can make our own lives better when doing so. Of course, there's nothing wrong with pure unselfish altruism, but even the saints among us can continue to serve better and longer by keeping themselves healthy and capable.

Here is a list of ten things you can practice in daily life as acts of kindness that are also good self defense.

1) Let others go first.

When you open the door for others, you can keep your eye on them. You can get a good sense of what lies beyond by watching their behavior. It's useful to practice extending your awareness behind you as you approach doorways, perhaps noticing any information to be seen in reflective surfaces.

Similarly, on the highways and roads, let people pass you who want by. If you're in the flow or doing the speed limit, the faster cars are more likely to be ticketed than you. Competing with a reckless driver only doubles the danger, and it's possible that the person you're trying to hold back might have a legitimate emergency. If the driver seems truly threatening to others, keep yourself and your passengers safe first, and call the cops if it's really that bad.

2) Greet strangers pleasantly.

Unless you're in a culture that considers this rude, it's a good idea to make contact with people you encounter. Brief eye contact, a smile, and possibly a nice word will give you a chance to gauge their response and know their character. It also requires that you be engaged and aware of your surroundings. Be sure, however, to not come across as too meek or shy, nor arrogant and forward.

3) Be generous.

People who say you can't buy friendship, affection, or loyalty are wrong. In fact it's very difficult to acquire allies without some form of economic exchange. The giving does need to be sincere, however, and within one's capabilities. Too much of an unnecessary sacrifice is likely to place an awkward burden on the recipient, and may lead to resentment on either party.

4) Practice cheerfulness.

Being self-absorbed tends to reduce the expansiveness of one's awareness. A good mood, if not carried to excess, promotes an eager embrace of our surroundings. While it's healthy to be honest about all our emotions, feeling good is a habit that can be practiced. And it's a fact that people are more attracted to and willing to help someone with infectious good humor and disposition. Helping others feel good makes the whole environment more pleasant, and a healthy feedback-loop is established.

5) Maintain an attractive appearance.

Whatever you were born with, you can present in a pleasing manner. People tend to respond to a charismatic face and voice. It shows that you care about what signals you put into their eyes and ears. Again, when people are favorably disposed toward you, they are more likely to assist you in your aims. Beware of vanity as this may breed resentment.

6) Be solitary.

Despite the above recommendations, it's a good idea to learn to be comfortable when alone. Everyone needs some recharge time, albeit in different amounts. Developing a healthy relationship with yourself gives you a better basis for understanding and forgiving others. This will also help you to respect others' needs for privacy and solitude.

7) Listen.

Try to see if you can speak less than the person you are talking to. Even if you are the featured speaker, pay attention to your audience and get feedback from them in whatever ways are appropriate. You will be more able to detect early warning signs of hostility and take preemptive action if necessary. But just the act of being a good listener is often enough to establish rapport.

8) Give benefit of doubt.

We are all driven by beliefs, but rarely have all the facts. Fear, suspicion, and dread easily become habits, and can even prove self-fulfilling. Kick the addiction to cynicism and paranoia, and practice the opposite. Willfully, mindfully, and wisely practice the belief that all things can be turned toward benefit.

9) Make room for every emotion...

... your own as well as others. Certainly not every expression of emotion is acceptable, but it's useful to distinguish between the feeling and its particular manifestation. While there are no unhealthy emotions, there are unhealthy addictions to habitual responses. Developing a calm and centered comfort zone for all emotions allows for self-forgiveness and compassion for others. The ability to direct any form of emotional energy toward a benign outcome is at the root of effective self defense.

10) Give praise.

Although no one likes obsequious and ingratiating behavior, it shouldn't be difficult to find something to compliment in all sincerity. This facilitates the practice of noticing details about people, while establishing a connection with them at the same time.

~~~~~~~

The above list is just a random sampling of niceties which, if properly deployed, stand to dramatically increase quality of life. If the suggestions seem Pollyanna, consider: the common theme here is awareness and sensitivity. Top of the hierarchy for any effective defense strategy is keen situational awareness. Paying attention to your surroundings is the first, middle, and last tactical element in successful survival.

Intelligence and diplomacy go hand in hand. We are stronger by cultivating allies than by creating enemies, but both require intimate understanding. While we cannot prevent or foresee every attack, we can at least reduce the number of reasons to be perceived as a threat or opportunity. And when diplomacy fails, we should be positioned to remain linked to our adversary in ways that are likely to reduce surprise and optimize control tactics. The old expression about keeping friends close and enemies closer very much applies.

Maybe you're worried that, by practicing kindness, you'll be taken advantage of. Or, that you'll be perceived as weak and vulnerable. Unfortunately this fear is well founded. This is why there is the need for discipline and the study of the wise use of force. The goal, after all, is to preserve our integrity and quality of life, not to make a practice of self-defeating sacrifice. As the Sufis may say, trust in Allah, but tie up your camel.

A mature person will realize how tough-minded one must be in order to effectively embody compassion. Likewise, one experienced in the ways of combat knows that the most efficient method of engagement is to never have to deploy force. So it is that the warrior and the statesman come to a common place, and begin to speak a common language.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies -- in the final sense -- a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense.... It is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

~ Dwight D. Eisenhower


© Ross Robertson, 2004

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Center
Austin, Texas, USA
etaison@stillpointaikido.com


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