In today's SN-L, Michael Pulley has a column that the page editor decided to put under the headline Words reveal an inclination for violence:
Delicious violence shaped my youth, with destruction holding special delights. Hurling anything handy at inanimate objects or people was particularly gratifying. I threw gravel at stop signs, walnuts at the windows of abandoned houses, apples at dogs and cats, tomatoes at unsuspecting adults. No one, I thought, was watching. Until as a 10-year-old I was hauled with my parents into a good-natured session before the town sheriff, who told me to stop throwing things. I complied.
Then came the hitting phase. We whacked each others' arms until deliriously numb; we blindsided one another with jolting tackles; in "burn out" we slapped each others' hands until painfully acquiescing. This culminated gloriously in the town's sanctioned coup de grace: high school football. No Mighty Mites or junior high football in those days. At 14, in ill-fitting equipment from the 1950s, we offered ourselves as "live freshman bait" to be pummeled and smashed like gridiron roadkill by brutish seniors. Later, as seniors, we did the same, savoring the inflicted pain and occasional freshman bone-breaking. Sweet stuff, we thought. Violence meets humiliation.
Then college, where the twin charms of violence and humiliation were applied with subterfuge. Stealing. I did not participate but witnessed it: the violence of wrestling from unwilling hands books, papers, clothing -- even ideas. A dorm buddy happened to be working on a similar assignment and wondered what I was doing. I'd spent days on a project I found fascinating and fulfilling. I showed him my work.
"Thanks," he said.
Maybe I had helped him come up with something interesting. Days later, I asked him how he did, and the fool showed me. My paper exactly, nearly word-for-word. His an A. Mine a B. I lashed out verbally before he walked away, unfazed, even pleased. I've seen him occasionally over the years, a successful businessman, always greeting me warmly. Nice guy, really. Perhaps he's softened, as have I.I watched JFK's violent shooting, Martin Luther King's, RFK's, the brutality of the 1968 Chicago street protests, George Wallace's shooting, John Lennon's shooting, the assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan. Then the Vietnam War, Gulf War, World Trade Center disaster, Iraq War, Afghan War. Today I can watch only seconds of Mixed Martial Arts, where hitting and bloodying an opponent while down and helpless is high sport.
Yet, mostly I flinch in disgust at the verbal rampages I witness on talk radio, news stations, blogs, letters to editors. Words at their violent worst and, I suspect, meant to maim and humiliate. Some call it lack of civility. To be sure. But underlying must be a need to strike, to bloody. Destroy.
I wonder about the violence that informed my youth. Why did I once prize it so then and am repulsed by it now? I'll ask my shrink. Or perhaps just repeat the instructive words of that small town sheriff. "Stop throwing things."
Especially loaded words. Someone could get hurt.
In December, 2007, I posted the following photos under the blog title "How It Begins." Pulley and I were on the same wave length.