I can honestly say that I spent much of my time at elementary school as a miserable coward. As I wandered alone, step by step, along the concrete dividers outside my school each recess and lunch, my mind raced with intimidating scenarios.
What if that boy decided to fight me? What if they swarmed me with insults and pushed me? What if they approached me, cracking their knuckles? What could I do?
I was constantly figuring out escape routes, deciding whether or not I could outrun them, or reach that teacher in time, or the classroom, or safety, somewhere, anywhere.
(It’s worth noting that I was never punched once. Did get shoved into a bush. Was bit once. But that one was my fault.)
If I was walking on my own, dark, light, day, night, whatever, I would imagine muggers emerging from every shadow, and I would continually run scenarios over and over in my head. That’s one reason why I bought an mp3 player: So I could have something else in my head as I went from point A to point B other than running through what would happen, were I attacked.
In every scenario I ran through, I either ran away… or more rarely imagined myself getting the piss beaten out of me.
Eventually, I came to realize that this wasn’t healthy. Certainly not a useful use of my time. But I that realization alone didn’t cut it out entirely. No. I thought the healthiest thing was to make sure that when I envisioned these… ruminations… that I would imagine myself ‘winning’ the encounter. With tact and compassion, I would employ myself like a master hostage negotiator and defuse the situation (okay, or sometimes with physical intimidation, grabbing the right weapon around me). Then they would give in, reform, and become a better person.
But that wasn’t healthy either. And whenever someone stole something from me, or I lost something (which amounted to the same thing in my mind), I became angry. Spiteful. The loss of my poor M:TG Lightning Dragon really ate me up.
Then, BOOM! Moment of clarity. Shining, shimmering splendid! I realized how I could solve both of these problems – my constant scenario-making, and my anger. I had a choice to make.
I chose to trust strangers. And everyone else. To assume that they were good people. To assume that the man in the shadows would have a kind heart. To assume that no one would have stolen my hat – I must have left it somewhere, or someone must have taken it by mistake. An honest error, t’is all. Well, that’s alright. They can have it.
And if it really was stolen? They must need it more than I do.
This past December, I got in trouble with a lady’s parents when, at the end of a dinner spent at their place, I asked if she could show me the way to the bus stop. Because I didn’t know where it was, and needed to get home. (That, and having a minute alone with her would have been nice.)
And yes, being a man, the potential dangers are different for me. But living to the point of being afraid of walking half a block away from one’s home… I am so glad I don’t live like that anymore. So glad that I can enjoy the solitude of a good walk, or be happy to see an unknown face on the street.
The world is safer, less violent, more peaceful, than it has ever been. I will admit, however, that the dangers and evil deeds of the world are better reported than ever before. So I don’t watch the news, other than a feed on politics, science and technology. There’s always hope on those fronts. (Yes, even in politics. From time to time.)
Once I chose to trust in strangers, I stopped worrying about mythical muggers and became a much happier man, and that trust has been repaid countless times, over and over again. I highly recommend it.