All my life, I’d been told not to fight. Not to hit, kick, punch, pinch, bite. Not to wrestle, not to box. Playing football, I was instructed to tap people on both shoulders. That’s how the game worked. A polite word: “Excuse me, sir.” “I apologize, but I can’t let you carry the ball any further.” That was the literacy of my life. I used my words, and not my fists. A bonafide zen master: Champion of my own emotions.
Yet, in that moment, I wondered how I’d hit that point, standing on the beach, my feet carved up, bleeding into the sand. The smell of sweat, sea, and a tinge of iron. A packing sensation in my chest every so often, as one of his fists would connect. Or my arm. My stomach. Everything moving a little too quickly, as we ran around each other. My jaw bruised, my cheeks cut from the inside. I was alive.
Was I a failure? A manic mass of testosterone? With these questions running around my head, we walked back towards the street, our breath ragged, cigarettes hanging from our lips. The strangest serenity set over me, and very suddenly, I realized that I’d been lied to all my life; that maybe there was a place for fighting.
How do I define literacy? I define literacy as the way we interact with one another, and it’s shrinking. We’ve become accustomed to the ways that those in charge have restricted our interactions, and told us the way we should behave. We’ve conceded to the ways that people tell us to interact, and, like fighting, the ways that many consider to be unhealthy, and uncultured.
Literacy has become uniform, as we coddle ourselves from reality. Many people speak about individuality, but expect all people to think the same things. We have no room for opinion anymore, and, in the words of Mike Rose, “The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more they tend simply to adapt to the world as it is.” If a large enough majority decides that, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” then it must be true, for the powers-that-be have spoken!
I’d say ‘the sword’ has always spoken louder to me. Whether it’s a fist to the face, or an arm around my neck, a bear hug or a soft touch, the ambiguity of physicality leaves so much room for meaning. Yet, for reasons of safety and what we consider to be uniform comfort, we’ve choked it. We’ve organized competition to reduce the number of casualties. Soccer, tennis, baseball. Even football, where we strap six inch layers of padding to ourselves before we charge at each other head-first. Or, even worse, when we stick flags to ourselves. All you have to do is run. All you have to do is carry a ball.
Many people in Horsham Clinic were there for what people had labeled as 'unreasonable aggression,' which usually translated to getting into a fight. Almost as if fighting was an illness that could be cured with a strict regimen of xanax and adderall.
We learn complacency. We learn to read, and write, and do basic math. We learn to sit down and shut up. Mike Rose, in his article, I Just Want to be Average, illustrates the unwritten rules of being human in the 21st century.
“the teacher teaches and the students are taught;
the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;
the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;
the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;
the teacher chooses the program content, and the students adapt to it;
the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.”
I know nothing. I’ve been disciplined. I’ve complied. I’ve been an object. Everyone lives in an illusion of freedom, in blissful ignorance of the uniform grip that we’ve placed on one another, a grip that, as Mike Rose says, is "necrophilic; nourished by a love of death, not life.” We don't value one another's existence, we value the uniformity and compliance. Things I would say are akin to the death of a person.Ultimately, the ways we interact with each other are different for every relationship. Through hugs, fights, conversations, and everything in between, I have learned to navigate through the ever-changing definition of literacy, and I have learned the things that work for me through experience. The world is ever-changing, and so are we. Literacy is not uniform. Neither are we.