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This is a book review
that I think I could do without ever having read the book. Judo With Words
trades on the supposed analogy between physical self-defence and self-defence
of the verbal kind.
The title is
enough to get me going, since the theme of verbal self-defence is not new.
Suzette Elgin has written on this subject well over ten years ago and it was
then that I started thinking about the analogy.
I dont think the
analogy is strong enough. We tend to defend our physical well being since there
is obvious pain and harm if we receive a punch to the jaw. Loosing blood can be
dangerous. A knife slash or a hit with a club can be fatal. The consequences of
physical violence are dire but is it the same with verbal violence? What is there to hurt? Nothing physically embodied, only
psychologically embodied. So wouldnt it be better if we were just immune to
verbal attacks treating the rhetorical slashes of the enemy with a calm
composure and a bit of folk wisdom like, sticks and stones may break my bones
but words will never hurt me. Someone,
Dalai Lamic in stature, I suppose, would never need a book like this, since
they have enough virtue to deal with petty insults when, at best, the insults
are a function, (of low self-esteem, jealousy, resentment, etc.,) more of the
insulter than the insultee.
Wherein is the
analogy? At best there is a gentle metaphor. And given the fact that much of
our vocabulary to do with both rational and irrational argument are metaphors borrowed
from war and buildings, its not hard to understand why the verbal defence line
gets its impetus from. War and buildings I hear you say? Yes, he knocked down
my argument, her position is not
grounded and will collapse at the slightest pressure from any opposing
opinion, you better get ready to
defend your point of view otherwise the other debating teem will start hurling
objections at you. Get my point? Arguments are constructed at presented only
to be torn apart. Our language of proof, of having an opinion, and contra-wise,
of rejecting other opinions, is steeped in battle and destruction, of claiming
territories and of winning battles. Polemical
itself has its Greek root in war and is now used to describe a vocal diatribe
saturated with attacks, defences, guards, and taking prisoners.
So there is a
metaphor in Judo with Words -- in the
verbal art of self-defence. However, it still remains to be discovered how can
words hurt us, and is it that they hurt us only if we let them hurt us. Not all
of us can have the character of the Dalai Lama and now that I have read the
book I commend it to all of us who are hurt by words.
Berckhan uses the
martial art Aikido, (which is like Judo), as the core principle in her advice.
Somehow, the seemingly weak person can overcome the stronger attacker and, as
in the case with aikido, so also with verbal defence.
What was a bit weird was the
chapter on Giving a Quick-Witted Response. For example -- Be Unpredictable,
Confuse Your Opponent, Discard All Logic and Reason. Quote the Inappropriate
Proverb. A specific example -- if
your attacker says to you, You look terrible today, have you been sleeping in
say back to them, Make hay while the sun shines. And if you can withstand the incredulous
stare from your opponent as his mind is embattled with your non sequitur, you
make your escape. I know a lot of
elderly people who use these tactics and they win against me every time. (I
hope my mother isnt reading this!).
But really I suppose this would work in real life if your intention is
to shut the other person up.
misgivings with the title, I commend the book to anyone interested in words,
conversation, arguments and emotions; and for anyone who has a particularly
difficult time with difficult people in their family or work places. The book
was extremely clear to read despite being a translation from the German. There
are many practical examples and exercises to follow. I would only end this by
saying that, as in martial arts, sometimes you just have to run away and not
get into a fight if your opponent has more power. The same goes for verbal
self-defence. It might make the average person a little bit better in their
day-to-day life but anything pathological needs more expert treatment. The only
other thing to say is that sometimes arguments are worth fighting for and one
may have to suffer the pain and harm if one stands up for the truth. We may grasp the choice between protecting
our ego and asserting what we think is right against violent attacks. We
shouldnt always seek a panacea whenever we experience a little discomfort.
Its part of the territory.
© 2002 Robert Anderson
Robert Anderson a PhD student in
Philosophy at Macquarie University. A registered fitness leader, he is also a
keen martial arts student in Jeet Kune Do, which is commonly described at the
art of fighting without fighting.