I struggled through this concept yesterday, as I sat in a meeting where the self-appointed guardians of projects started pushing their own opinions and time lines down the throats of others - not for any reason or law, but simply because they believe that it should be so.
As I sat there afterwards, stewing in my resentment and anger, I realized: I hate thugs.
We typically think of thugs as low brow, heavy-handed types with no necks who use force to get what they want or enforce their own wills. But this is something we tend to associate with "undesirable elements" rather than with our own lives. This is a mistake, one that allows such people to get away with their will.
Growing up, I was the victim of thuggery twice: both times, as I recall, in fourth or fifth grade. In one instance it was a group of kids in my neighborhood; in another, it was at school. What I remember from both (other than the discovery that I could not defend myself) is the feeling of powerlessness I had in the situation, even more than fear. I was not the biggest child growing up, nor was I the most athletic, so my choices were turn and flee (or in my case, fling your skateboard, turn and flee) or get rolled (as in picked up and planted into the raised bed of dirt). In both cases, it took an authority figure to deal with the situation.
Looking back in retrospect, I wonder if this was the best thing. While it resolved the problem, what it did is instill in me a belief that I was powerless in such situations and could do nothing myself; I needed someone else to rescue me. I'm not one for fighting per se, but I wonder if defending myself would have taught a different lesson.
Because that lesson, once learned, is hard to escape from.
The reality is that such thugs dwell in all aspects of our lives. They may not use their fists and superior weight, but they do use their power, their intellect, their words and even (still) their physical presence to enforce their wills. And they are no longer simply bigger than we are: they come in all shapes and sizes, using all sorts of intimidation to enforce the dictates of their own wills.
What it leaves us with is a sense of powerlessness, a sense that I can't change anything, that I must accept the dictates of the thug because they will overwhelm me - maybe not physically anymore, but intellectually and spiritually. We become victims of our own fears, driven to hide in the recesses of our terror of being made to feel powerless again, hoping that some other authority will come and rescue us from the thug. We become dependent on others for the defense of ourselves and the initiation of our lives.
How do you fight a thug?
By standing up to them.
It's the only way. The second reality of thugs is they are often so used to getting their way, that they don't always know what to do when someone pushes back (an interesting sideshow, if you ever observe one, is to see a thug getting pressured by a more powerful thug). They often stop and give you the look as if they are in shock that anyone would counteract their decreed will. They sputter. They get red. They get embarrassed. They may lash out at others. They are not used to having their wills confounded.
Don't know how to stand up to them? Know their means of attack. Physical thugs, of course, are simply a matter of learning to defend ourselves. Other thugs are no different. Their methods of attack are standard and can be learned. Do they quote Scripture? Learn more. Do they quote regulations? Learn them better. Do they quote ideologies? Learn the ideologies, and learn the counterarguments.
Is it hard? Sure - who has time to read the Code of Federal Regulations or review Plato's theory of government in their busy lives. But the reality is this: there is something on the other side of our fear of thugs, something that if that fear is removed will be released. I suspect it's different for individuals, and I cannot even fully tell you myself what is on the other side of my own fear. But I can sense it there, needing only to have fear moved aside to be released.
It occurs to me that the day we stand up to the thug is our life we will find that we have far more power than we thought. And if we do it often enough, we will find we are capable of far more than we ever envisioned.
Let that day be today - and every day - in our lives.