Cheek Two, Tar Baby & Aikido

Turning the other cheek flies in the face of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus’ suggestion of an alternative to head-on battle is noteworthy.

Eventually, we all find ourselves face to face with an opponent out to do us in. We could be literal here and insist that Jesus wants us to stand by passively waiting for our enemy to wallop us with a second blow to our other cheek. I don’t think so.

Bullies are generally persistent. Jesus asks us not to resist evil. As Uncle Remus says in the movie “Song of the South”, “You can’t run away from trouble…There ain’t no place that far.” And, as the boy in the movie reminds his friend, “We’re supposed to use our heads instead of our foots.” By foots, he did not mean kicking tar baby or using weapons, hands, feet and head such as the Buddhist predecessor of Br’er Rabbit, Prince Five Weapons, did. Uncle Remus and perhaps Jesus as well meant using one’s head to cleverly outwit Tar Baby or Sticky-hair; i.e., call the monster’s bluff. As Prince Five Weapons said, “In my body is the sword of adamant that will chop your innards into mincemeat. If you devour me, we will both die.” And, the trickster, Br’er Rabbit said to Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear, “please don’t throw me in the briar patch.” Moral? Using paradox and reverse psychology can get one out of sticky situations.

Among our go-to forms of retaliation when cornered are fight, flight, passive-aggressive maneuvers, guilt trips and shaming. The goal is transcendence, clever mindfulness.

I once interviewed a potential candidate for a residency in Family Medicine. I asked him what he does when faced with opposition. He happened to be an advocate of a Japanese form of martial arts called Aikido. He demonstrated a few moves with me. He explained that Aikido is about energy and momentum. He said it emphasizes mastering martial arts so that one may receive an attack and harmlessly redirect it. In an ideal resolution, neither the receiver nor the attacker is harmed.

At the risk of sounding reductionistic, what if, after the bully smites you the first time (literally physically/verbally or metaphorically), you turn another cheek (let his or her momentum and monumental negative energy propel him or her to a place of imbalance – physically or mentally) and you can then sidestep pejorative actions or words. Being mindful, you surprise the attacker and get out of the way. This is mental aikido at its best.

If I might illustrate: An adult play therapist taught me a useful technique. Supposing someone is ragging on and on about something unpleasant. As she continues to vent, rave, and rant, I lift one leg and stand there like a flamingo. After a while, she will ask, “Katie, why are you standing on one leg?” My response, “Please hold on for a minute, I’m trying to get my balance.” After a few moments of silence (it will drive her nuts), the spell is broken and we can shift gears into a new and better topic. Here’s another one: Brice is not attending classes at school, but he is convinced he will graduate because the woman in admissions likes him. Rather than arguing with him, his friend, Mick, agrees with him, exaggerating the situation to the point that Brice may well begin to question his magical thinking and come out of denial. Here’s one I used with parents of teens who were arguing and cursing at one another: The parent says, “Since you’re using bathroom language, go into the bathroom, lock the door where you’ll have some privacy, and finish your argument in the bathtub.” The change of setting and silliness usually snaps them out of it. If you are wanting to head thing off at the pass to prevent an unfortunate encounter, try this: “In the past, George, when you became frightened about our daughter, instead of expressing your fears, you became angry and yelled at me. Can we please do things differently this time and talk openly about what you are afraid might happen to Sally Sue?”

All this to say that direct battle with confrontation or avoidance by leaving or ignoring problems is eclipsed by the turning of the other cheek. We try a new and surprising dance where no one is badly hurt by blending with the attacker’s movements for the purpose of controlling actions with minimal effort and maximum compassion. Best wishes for your next briar patch moment.

I could tell ya (more), but that’s another tale for another day. (That’s what Uncle Remus said.)

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