Category Archives: Life Advice

Respond to Fear with Understanding, not with Power

While I was shopping at Ranch 99 in Daly City, I watched a 30-50 year old man yell at a 60-80 year old security guard, ask the security guard to go outside to fight him, and punch the security guard in the face (left eye) before storming off, looking over his shoulder in case he was pursued.

To appease you the reader, I should start off by saying that the security guard didn’t deserve to get punched and it is sad that he did. And it was wrong of the man to have punched the security guard on many levels, and it was wrong of the man to scream and yell at the security guard, and it was wrong of the man to storm off and not take responsibility. But what I want to talk about is the man and his perspective. So now that I’ve appeased you, let’s dive in.

Why in the world did this man act and behave in this way? Does he not know right from wrong? Does he not have self control? Does he think he can get away with this? These are common questions people who don’t understand this man would ask. And generally these people will follow these questions with an emotional reaction of fear: I’m afraid this man might someday harm me, so I want him to be locked away, punished, and corrected somehow. We need power to deal with this: the police, the law, the government, god, religion, higher powers, to step in. So that I can live my life in peace, safety, without fear.

To summarize: people who don’t understand respond with fear, and with that fear they wield power to solve what they perceive to the problem: that man.

The man was bald, asian, tan light brown, shorter than the security guard by about 7 inches, thin round glasses, wearing a checkered blue and white dress shirt, pressed with no wrinkles. He was thin, symmetrical round face, english was not his first language but he spoke it well to the point that only a native speaker could tell the slight misuse of air in his “wanna fight” pronunciation. He had a small backpack, a belt on, professional pants (but not black suit or dress pants).

I’m waiting in the checkout line. There beyond the cash register are boxes of snacks on sale. I see the security guard to my right talking to this man to the left of my field of vision. I hear the man on the left shout “Let’s go! Come on. Outside, right now. Are you a man?”

As a psychiatrist, this man is telling me he doesn’t feel like he is a man. He is insecure about his own manhood in this moment, which is why he is voicing it to the world in a desperate grasp at the idea that if he can make others believe he is a man, maybe through imposter syndrome he can convince himself he is a man. Something must be going on in his life. Something bad. Something that has taken away his confidence.

I see the security guard is an old white man, all white hair, has a belly, not athletic at all, should be retired but not privileged enough to retire so is instead working a low paying job as an unarmed security guard in ranch 99, and I see the man is younger, unwrinkled skin, but thinner. I start to theorize: He is in front of the snacks on sale, perhaps he tried to steal something because he is hungry, and the security guard is stopping him. What else would provoke such an outburst with the context I currently have?

“Let’s GO!”

This man wants to fight an older man by at least a decade. The idea that a 30 year old beating up a 70 year old proves that the 30 year old is a man is laughable. The logic doesn’t make sense. Therefore, I know this man is not thinking logically in this moment. It’s all emotional. He feels weak, his world is insecure, he is afraid, so fight or flight.

At this point I stop watching because I see the old man not making any movement toward the door (which is to the left of my vision) and I know he’s too old and wise and calm to pick a fight or give in to this childish taunting. I figure the man will just leave and everyone’s life will continue.

I see the security guard look around to see that attention of the crowd has been drawn. So with the support of us he draws the strength to say loudly “Get Out.”

There is a scuffle, I hear some plastic rustling (the snacks), I look up and I see the old man with his two hands raised trying to defend himself, walking backwards and losing balance and vision in his haste, and I see the man planted firmly on his feet, bouncing left and right as he advances, throwing one punch into the arms and another punch *smack* onto the face of the old man.

The man then backs off, and starts briskly walking away and looking around at us in case we close in on him. All the ranch 99 employees are slowly edging towards him and his eyes open wide. It’s at this moment that I notice the details: his face is fairly hollow and thin, he’s wearing nice pants, small backpack. He rushes away. No-one decides to restrain him physically and he gets away.

Everyone is in shock at what we all witnessed. We know that man was wrong for hitting the security guard, and we feel sorry for the security guard for being hit, and we know that the security guard is obviously a man for not fighting rather than a man for fighting. Cantonese fills the air which I don’t understand, and a few people go over to the security guard to comfort him. I think it’s very unfortunate: he’s an old man, he’s just trying to make a living as an unarmed security guard, probably a job that isn’t that high skill, not that much training, not that high paying…he probably took the risk because he didn’t have many other job prospects, especially at his age. All he wanted to do was have no trouble, do his job, and collect his pay.

So what’s my point with this story. I think that man had a job interview today and didn’t get the job. I think that man was hungry and afraid, as not having a job would make anyone afraid, and I think that man was feeling worthless. For whatever reason, the security guard decided that this man needed to be talked to, and the man felt even more worthless. And the man felt the fear that comes with being worthless. And the man responded to that fear with power: I’m not worthless because I can fight you physically.

The security guard felt fear, so he stood still and defensive. Then he noticed the power he could draw from the bystanders, and he used that power to fight back verbally.

The man, now facing the external fight against authority and the internal fight against his own worthlessness, responds to the fear with power and punches the man to win both the internal and external fight. (footnote1)

We as observers respond with fear followed by power as well.

My point is that responding to fear with power can lead to more fear and more power in an endless cycle. Responding with understanding can break the cycle, so respond to fear with understanding instead of power. Face your fear, know it in detail, plan for the corner cases, talk it out, understand it. That’s how you win. Not with power.

footnote1: Had he backed off, he would have felt more worthless. Thus to win the internal fight he had to win the external fight.To find out when more life education writing is released, subscribe on the side! Follow on Twitter, on Facebook, on Google+, on Tumblr.

Don’t Overreact

Don’t overreact.  Adapting is important, but there is such a thing as adapting TOO much, and doing so will negatively affect your own life and your relationships with others. Instead, you should adapt the appropriate amount for the given circumstances.

I used to pride myself on how many things I could change in response to feedback.  From what time I sleep to the number of grams of chicken I ate in a 72 hour period to what thoughts to think when transitioning from one task to another, I controlled every detail.  But recently I’ve noticed that small external changes were triggering huge internal changes to my life. I was overreacting. Someone would say I’m drinking to much water and I’d go from a cup per hour to a cup of water per 3 hours and get overly dehydrated.  The change was too much too soon.  Instead I should scale down in percentages: half a cup every 1.5 hours instead of jumping to 3 so soon.

Also: Don’t change your behavior on TOO many occasions. I was taking advice too often: On Monday I’d read something about the dangers of overhydration and start adjusting to a cup every 3 hours, and then on Tuesday I’d read that dehydration has risks and I’d start adjusting back to one cup every hour.  The body needs time to react, generally 3 weeks to build a new consistent lifestyle habit, so all of this constant changing was just keeping my body in a constant state of defense towards foreign and abnormal behaviors which is worse for my health overall.

Not only is this bad for me personally, but it reflects poorly on me to others because I wasn’t being consistent. Inconsistency makes people think you’re unreliable and undependable, both qualities that will lose you relationships.  If on Monday I convince everyone to drink less water and on Tuesday I change my stance, eventually by Wednesday they’ll learn to just not listen to my advice.  And I don’t want that. So I need to have patience and take my time both in making the choice to make a change and in the execution of that change.

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Focus to Improve Skills, Unfocus to Improve Relationships

When it comes to skills like tennis, math, piano, you can improve at them the more you work at it, the more hours you spend, the more focus you bring to the path you take to the goals you’re trying to reach.  If I concentrate harder, I get results faster, because I’m controlling myself more, and success is gained when I can perform and execute the technique perfectly. The more time I spend, the more practice I get, and the more likely I am to execute the technique perfectly.  This ability to learn and learn quickly is very important in life, and is typically how people ‘succeed’ in the objective and competitive sense of the word.

Then there are things like relationships where your results improve when you’re not working at it, that don’t improve solely based on the hours you spend on it, and where focus can actually reduce your success significantly.  A relationship is successful if they remember you when you’re gone, not that they pay attention to you while you’re there.  Spending time alone doesn’t improve the relationship, spending quality time does, and there’s only so much quality time available per day and interaction before it becomes suffocating to spend more time together: overstaying results not in diminishing returns but actually in negative returns.  Spending too much time weakens the relationship, not strengthens.  And focusing too hard on someone is creepy, and so leads to failure.

Applying the skills used to master skills to relationships will lead to failure.  Separate the two, and develop a well rounded toolkit. Be able to learn quickly, and also be able to improve relationships.

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