How would you answer if a child plaintively beseeched you: “Teach me how to fight”?
I am probably in the second half of my life, and I have never broken a bone. It may be for that reason that I go out of my way to avoid conflict, forever triangulating and trying to find middle ways: building ever bigger tents to keep the various friends and acquaintances all in one happy place with dark corners.
However, last night I was set upon by a skeletal figure who leapt at me brandishing a fiery torch. I did the only thing I could think of in the circumstances: I shot him in the head.
The word ‘critical hit’ floated above him for a millisecond. I was rewarded with 150 experience points. My wife looked up at the plasma screen from her knitting and said, “That’s disgusting.”
It is disgusting and I don’t understand the pleasure I derive from it. It is a guilty pleasure – no more or less reprehensible than watching a horror film or reading a grisly thriller, but certainly nothing to boast about.
My father was a boxer. He would playfully spar with me when I was young. This mainly involved him hopping impishly from one foot to the other, periodically slapping me lightly (but annoyingly) on the cheek. “You’ve got to be able to turn it on.” he would tell me, before slapping me again. It’s a teaching approach that began and ended with him.
I can turn a games console on. Of that, I hope my father would be proud. I can fight with great prowess in virtual worlds. But in this world, I remain with every bone intact.
Grit, resilience, manning up, breaking bones: this is the language of educational politics in one corner of my tent. Well-being, flourishing, happiness, the safety to learn: this is the language spoken in the other corner. Neither has a monopoly on compassion and neither has a monopoly on “real life” as lived “on the streets”.
But both deserve a platform. And both should respect the rules of the game: whether it is boxing, wrestling or debate.
“Teach me how to fight.” I asked my father one day. He stopped hopping from one foot to the other and fixed me with his glass eye.
“Touch gloves with your opponent at the beginning,” he said, “and touch gloves with them at the end. The rest is up to you.”
Then he slapped me.