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Losing Face, Gaining Wisdom


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In Japan and Thailand it is considered in very poor taste to show anger. Anger is judged to be a weakness and, if a person gets mad, he loses face. In that case, I lost face in a very big way last weekend!

I was at the Jamaica High School track training for a possible new record - running with a raw egg balanced in a dessert spoon, but instead of holding the spoon the traditional way in my hand, I was trying to run while holding the spoon in my mouth. It was really difficult and I had no doubt that I looked absolutely ridiculous!


The track was deserted except for a few teenagers who were tossing a football around. As I jogged along, the egg kept popping out of the spoon and, although I managed to catch the egg each time, I was getting more and more frustrated. Finally, by intensifying my concentration, I was able to make it halfway around the track when, suddenly, one of the kids sprinted across my path and yelled to his friend, "Come on, throw the ball. It's OK, just throw the ball."

It was obvious that the lad wanted to make me drop the egg, but instead of distracting me, he motivated me to become even more focused. I'm used to this kind of treatment - after all, I live in New York City! Several years ago, while practicing walking with a milk bottle balanced on my head, I would often have to deal with kids trying to make me lose my concentration by jumping up and down, waving their hands, and screaming at me. One ingenious soul even hid behind a tree and fired pebbles at me using a slingshot!

I could handle a little harassment but, a few minutes later, another one of the teens approached and, while back peddling in front of me, asked if I knew what time it was. I couldn't believe the kid's audacity! I simply glared and mumbled through the spoon in my teeth, "No, I don't have the time". To the kids, this was all a big joke, but I take my training sessions very seriously, probably too seriously.

And then it happened. As I came around the bend of the track, the first kid deliberately crashed into me, pretending he was trying to catch a football. The only problem was that there was no football in sight. I was furious. How could this brat have such little respect for another human being? Our eyes met for a split second and then I lost it. I tore after the misguided youth. It took me just a few seconds to catch up to him and I grabbed him by the sleeve. I had no intention of hurting him, but I wanted to scare him. He managed to wriggle free, fell over on the grass and with great agility rolled back up and continued to run. I decided not to pursue but I yelled out, with a ferocity that surprised even me, "If you ever do that again, you will be in big trouble!"

Now, I'm not proud of what I did. I'm not a violent person, I never get into fights, and I literally would not hurt a fly. But this kid really irked me! After the incident, I kept training and became reflective. I knew that I had handled the situation badly and I prayed to God to give me the wisdom to deal with similar situations in a more spiritual way in the future.

Well, I didn't have to wait long for the opportunity - shockingly, a tennis ball whizzed by my head! The kids were at it again. This time, I stopped, took the spoon and new egg out of my mouth, and calmly walked over to the boys. I said, "Hey, guys, look, I'm training for a Guinness record and I really need to concentrate, so please give me a break." It was if I had uttered a magic incantation. The kid who had crashed into me replied, "Yeah, now I recognize you, you're that crazy dude on MTV!" I tried to convince him that I wasn't that crazy dude but, in any case, we had a truce. The kids decided to climb onto the roof of the storage building and I continued my practice in peace.

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I learned a lot from that encounter. It showed me that a little kindness goes a long way and that anger is always the wrong response. Now that I am in a better space, I can almost admire the kid I threatened. One thing is for sure, he has a lot of guts. You need that to balance an egg on a spoon in your mouth in public. He also has good speed and he certainly demonstrated good balance. Come to think of it, he has all the makings of a future egg and spoon balancing champion! If I had only known that earlier, I would never have gotten so mad at him in the first place!