A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I don't want you to think I was a wimp or anything. I just didn't believe in fighting.

Which sort of made my friend, Albert, nuts.

"I don't know why you're afraid to fight," Albert said after I pinned him - again - during one of our regular wrestling matches. "You're the biggest guy in the school. I don't think anybody could beat you."

"Chris could, maybe," I said. "And Chuck. I wouldn't want to fight Chuck, either."

"Yeah, but Chuck's your friend," Albert argued. "Chris is the only one you'd have to worry about, and I think you could take him if you get him down on the ground and sit on him."

"I don't know," I said. "I don't like Chris, but I don't have a reason to fight him."

"Who needs a reason?" Albert said. "Fight him because he's a creep."

Albert had a point. In retrospect, I can see why Chris was the way he was - troubled childhood and all of that. But from the limited perspective of the sixth grade, the only thing that mattered was what we saw and understood. And we saw and understood that Chris was a creep. But somehow, that wasn't enough for me. At least, it wasn't enough to risk the pain - and possible humiliation - of fighting him.

"OK, let's say I fight him and beat him," I said. "Chris will still be a creep. Only now he'll be a mad creep. I don't think that's going to help any."

"Maybe not," Albert said. "But at least he'll know that you're tougher than him."

And that's what it always boiled down to: who is tougher. That's important to some boys, I guess, but it wasn't important to me. It just seemed like a stupid reason to get your nose bloody. Which is why I never got around to fighting Chris. In fact, I made it all the way through grade school without fighting anyone. Almost.

Albert and I were walking home from school on the last day of sixth grade when we saw David pushing around Steven, Albert's skinny, scrawny third grade brother. Life hadn't been kind to David. Nor had those of us who were his age, which may be why he was taking out his frustrations on someone half his size. But I didn't stop to think about the sociological implications of David's actions. I just reacted - quickly and physically - to perceived creepiness.

It wasn't much of a fight, really. Although we were the same age, I had about the same size advantage over David as he had over Steven. I pulled him off the smaller boy and pushed him to the ground. He stood up and I pushed him down again. This process was repeated several times until David finally got the point. He stayed on the ground and told me to leave him alone.

"OK," I said. "But if I ever catch you picking on little kids again, especially Steven . . ."

I didn't even have to finish the threat. He understood.

"I thought you didn't believe in fighting," Albert said as we walked away.

"I don't," I said. "But I don't believe in letting kids get picked on either - especially when they're like family. And I guess I don't believe in that more than I don't believe in fighting."

I still feel that way. While I hate conflict, it's unfortunately true that we live in a world in which we have to be prepared to take a stand from time to time - physically and otherwise. I'm not talking about going after people just because we don't like them, or because we want to prove that we are tougher than them. I'm talking about defending ourselves and others - especially those who are incapable of defending themselves - from bullies, thugs and creeps.

And that's something we can all believe in.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and