Confrontation Realized

I watch CNN and MSNBC mostly. I check in on Fox News occasionally, under the “know your enemy” protective radar that keeps us informed in stressful times. You all know which side of that aisle I’m on…

I was watching CNN last night and there was this segment where the moderator and the guest began talking over each other, which has become more frequent, the closer we get to the election. I’ve noticed all year that when this verbal cacophony occurs, I get instantly tense and want to change the channel. I’ve long attributed this reaction to the fact that I’m basically a pacifist who dislikes any confrontation. I’ve dealt with confrontation from time to time, you can’t live this long without having to confront someone, something, yet if it were avoidable, I’d avoid it.

Confronting Confrontation

But I realized last night that confrontation itself was not my real issue. As I sat through that CNN interview, in which the host and the guest both talked at the same time through the whole interview, my stomach twisted into a knot and once again I wanted to switch away from it. Then, happily, my 20-watt lightbulb suddenly came on, and I let them both rant on, smiling all the way to the end. For I had finally realized something.

You know how dogs nearly always turn around several times before lying down… how your hands uncontrollably fly up to protect your face if a friend suddenly says to you, “Think fast?” Remember that? My point – most animals, including us, have knee jerk responses to life situations. Some come to us genetically, some through experience. I had to laugh when it finally became clear why those verbal confrontations bothered me so.

I was raised in a bar in a small town in Montana. Montana is a fantastic state, with great people whose pioneer blood and spirit still runs deep and strong. In my parents’ bar, where I pretty much lived for 17 years, thousands of ideas and beliefs were expressed and shared by the customers over those years. You know how we tend to gravitate toward the more meaningful conversations when we’ve had a few. Or, as my friend D.J. Quinn used to say, “When we get intelligent.” I heard a ton of those in my parents’ bar. I also heard the most hilarious dirty jokes you can imagine during that period between 1947 and 1964. My point to all this is, I also heard discussions in the bar that turned into arguments, and I can tell you this – whenever two people began talking and shouting over each other for around 15 seconds or so, someone got slugged, and someone hit the floor. I saw that scene at least a dozen times, and it stuck with me.

I never liked fighting. But if you grew up in Montana in the ’50’s and ’60’s, you had to fight… a lot. Hell, I had a fight one Sunday afternoon with an Ennis deputy sheriff in Virginia City. He was drunk, and calling me out, and because I am (and always will be a Montana boy) I took him on. We both survived that stupidity, and that was the last ‘real’ fight I ever had. An overview of this young person (me) would have shown him to be of a musician’s temperament, a musician’s sensitivity, and that this person was not going to fight his way through life, proving over and over again that he was Montana tough. Wasn’t going to happen, folks.

So when the verbal battle on CNN raged and I finally figured it out… why my response was always so negative, so repulsed… it was such an enlightening moment! I was responding, subconsciously, to my experiences in Montana, when the voices raised and started stepping on each other, and a fight would break out, always ugly. All these years I’ve been tensing up in any kind of confrontation, because, in old Montana, that nearly always meant a fight!

It’s kind of funny, too, because I love boxing. My dad taught me how to box, taught me to enjoy it, and took me to several big-time prize fights in the ’50’s… one in Butte, when Bobo Olson fought Jersey Joe Walcott, then a really big fight down in Ogden, Utah, when Rex Lane fought Ezzard Charles. That was a great one. But I can’t stand bar fights, street fights, and never will. Guess the hard truth of all this is that I’m just another normal animal on this planet who still turns around 3 times before he lies down. But at least now I know why.

Steve Hulse

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