Speak softly, carry a big stick

Published 5:22 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2019

I could count on one hand the number of people with whom I’ve exchanged blows.

I’m not talking about good-natured friendly pops on the arm or the like. I mean punching like you’re trying to break something.

My brother (who hasn’t fought their sibling?), my always-get-into-trouble-with-friend Tony, a guy named Greg back in elementary school and some neanderthal in first grade. I add him only because he struck me. I had to stand back up to think about hitting back and by then he was already gone.

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This happened a few times, and my teacher must have finally put an end to it. Either that or he got arrested. Kid was huge for first grade. Think Moe, the bully in the classic comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.” I kinda wish I had been creative and sneaky enough to do what Calvin did to his oppressor — tape a sign on his back reading “Heave a rock at me.” Much better than “Kick me,” don’t you think?

I don’t know whatever happened to “Moe.” I just know he must have finally made it out of first grade. That had to have been his 13th year flunking his ABCs. But I know he no longer goes to that school because it was torn down a few years back.

Maybe he transferred.

I once kept a 30-inch long hickory dowel under my truck seat. I kept it there because of the location of my two jobs and the hours at which I sometimes arrived or left work, in the dark. I only pulled it out with the intention of using it once.

A co-worker had gotten fired earlier that day. He was a little fellow compared to me, but he was very energetic and angry. When I left work that evening I watched him as I unlocked my truck door. He was standing — wobbling, actually — amid discarded beer cans near his own vehicle. He was watching me with fists clenched.

I didn’t work alongside the guy. Didn’t really know him. Hardly ever encountered him. But I could easily see he was furious and drunk off his gourd, so to speak.

I reached in and under my seat, gripping the hickory stick and pulling it out. As he charged toward me suddenly, I stepped toward him and thumped the stick against my leg to draw his eyes to it.

When he saw it, he staggered to a stop and stared at it. After a few seconds, he lifted his hands and backed away. I just stood silently until he got back near his vehicle and I left.

He was arrested later for public drunkenness in a business parking lot and my defensive weapon and I thankfully didn’t see any action. I don’t remember what I paid for that hunk of wood, but it was worth it.

I’m reminded of a quote from one of my favorite Clint Eastwood westerns, “Pale Rider,” after Eastwood’s preacher character dispatched a few up-to-no-gooders with an axe handle — “Nothing like a good piece of hickory.”

Pres. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Be cautious and non-aggressive, but ready to act if necessary.

Way back in the Dark Ages, when I was in middle school, I got a paddling at school for getting in a fight with the above-mentioned Greg. I had witnessed Greg, a large fellow by anyone’s standards, bullying a slight-built friend of mine named Jeff during our recess break. Jeff was trying to stand up for himself, but Greg was just too large and physically aggressive. I was taller than Greg, so I inserted myself between the two and said something to the effect of if Greg continued to bully my friend I would be happy to intercede on his behalf in whipping Greg’s hind parts.

A few minutes later, Greg was back at it, shoving my friend down between the bushes outside our classroom window. I had enough. I called Greg’s name and when he turned I tried to knock his block off. What I clearly recall is Greg face down on the ground, trying to cover his head as I pummeled him in the head and shoulders while sitting on his back.

Our teacher came out and got us both, took us inside and asked us what happened. Greg said I attacked him. I told her what I had witnessed and what I did. She paddled Greg and sent him back out with a stern warning. Then she told me she had to paddle me because I was fighting — strictly against school rules — but that she was proud of me for standing up for my friend. I just should find a better way to do it.

I figured Mom and Dad would get a call about what had happened, so after dinner that night I talked to Dad. I asked him — hypothetically speaking, asking for a friend, you know — what would happen to me if I got into a fight at school.

Though not Sherlock Holmes, my dad was quick to ascertain I was probably speaking of an already-past event in which I most definitely was involved. He asked me to tell him what happened. I did.

He told me something similar to what my teacher had said and offered this advice — “Don’t fight if you can avoid it. If you can walk away, do it. If you can’t walk away, run.”

Good advice, really. Then he smiled a little and said, “And if you can’t walk away or run away, win.”

Dad, thanks for the advice. I’ve never forgotten it.

Mom, if you’re reading this, I just made all that up. Dad is innocent.

Sorry, Dad.

I don’t like conflict. You can ask pretty much anyone who knows me. I try to avoid it. It literally makes me sick to my stomach.

I get angry just as much as other people, maybe more. I’m irritated by things that shouldn’t bother me. And I constantly question the intellectual abilities of people who do things I don’t know how to describe any better than saying it was ridiculous, inane, brainless, stupid.

But every time I criticize others, without fail, God quickly reminds me how limited I am and how my anger and impulsiveness and other issues get the best of me and my reasoning capabilities. And how merciful he has been to me through Jesus.

Now there’s someone who didn’t always speak softly, but he sure carried a big stick.


Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com.