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The Art of Dropping The Rope

I have worked in a special needs and mental health setting for some time now, and one of our key tools for avoiding conflict with traumatised young people is to “drop the rope”. I have found it to be extremely effective, and now practice the art daily in my personal life

Tug of war can be used as an analogy for an argument or conflict in which one or both parties have ceased listening to the other and are unwilling (or unable) to resolve the disagreement by using reasonable discussion or accepting the other person’s point of view. The outcome of this verbal tug of war is that neither person can win, the volume of the argument increases and it becomes increasingly unpleasant for those involved and those bearing witness. 

Imagine, if you will, two teams of equally strong people pulling on each end of a rope. The rope goes nowhere. Both teams become hot and red-faced and pull until they are eventually exhausted. The competition becomes not one of strength, but of stamina, and they will pull all night long if it means avoiding defeat. The game becomes boring, anger builds. Each team curses the other and both teams appear equally foolish to onlookers. 

You cannot control your opponent; you can only control yourself. 

You can drop the rope. 

Your opponents stumble backwards into the mud, surprise etched on their face as they fall in a heap on the floor. The victory is hollow and humiliation swiftly follows. They shout and swear at you as you stand there calmly, unperturbed. You apologise to your opponent for causing them harm and quietly walk away. 

To drop the rope is not to admit defeat, it is to admit your strength. You were unable to pull your opponent to your side, but you also were not pulled along to their side. You were unmoved from your initial stance but could see clearly that your opponent, too, would not budge. And why should they? 

 Sometimes, these metaphorical tugs of war are difficult to avoid getting into. We rarely intend to argue with our partners, children, colleagues or the local shop assistant, but it happens. When it happens, we must drop the rope. The less tension there is on the rope as you drop it the better. But what is better than dropping the rope? Not picking it up in the first place. 

Say your point clearly. Make your request. Do it but once. If the person who speak to you refuses to listen or to help you, you must find another way. Make a list of all the ways you can achieve your goal and come back later. Share the list with them. Make sure you have listened to their response and understand their point of view. How can you work together? 

To win a game of tug of war by stubbornly dragging your opponent to your own side is ugly. When you create tension and stress, you are creating a potentially injurious scenario.

To drop the rope and watch your opponent fall backwards is a victory. 

To achieve your goals without ever holding the rope is an art form. 

Read my story, here.

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Haunted Away From Home

The grimey bug dude from A Scanner Darkly

Two months in. I’m lying in bed wrapped in two blankets and a duvet. I slide the balcony door open , kangaroo jump to the bathroom and dump the duvet and blankets on the dusty, tiled floor. Soap in hand, I flick on the shower. It’s freezing. It has been freezing for a week and will continue to be freezing for two weeks more. The gas is broken. Because I haven’t paid my bill. I don’t know how to do it. I can’t speak Chinese. I’ve been reduced to an infant, an orphan. I’m unable to understand the world around me but something other than language prevents me from asking for help. Pride? Ha.

I step into the freezing water for five seconds and step out again, soaping myself up like a madman. Rinse and repeat. My shower lasts all of fifty seconds. I dry off as fast as I can and re-wrap myself up in the slightly damp blankets and duvet which at least still has some of my body heat. I kangaroo hop back into bed for ten minutes to warm up. I’m shivering violently. It’s 7:00 am on Saturday morning. It’s nearly time for work.

For lunch it’s pork and rice, a welcome relief. The restaurants near to my house are all noodle restaurants. The only noodles I know how to order is Beef Noodles. Niu Rou Mian. I’ll go on to eat them nearly every day for 7 months. Sometimes twice a day. Red with chilli, thick chunks of tender fatty meat. There’s two places I go to. The first one is the best, really good. Haochi. The other I go to just to make sure the first one doesn’t think I eat beef noodles every day. The second place is friendlier, but I can’t understand them much. Eventually I learn the owner of the second one couldn’t join the army because of the DIY swastika tattoo on his forearm. I find a new place to go.

When I finish work, it’s 8.30 pm. I’ve taught seven hours of English lessons today. I’m tired. The noodle restaurants are closed and so my only local option is Street Barbecue. I’m the official inventor of the Chongqing Street Barbecue Sandwich, and despite the locals being in awe of the foreign lad putting barbecue between bread, it never took off.

“Be careful which meat you choose. You gotta wonder where all the stray dogs are in this city.”

When I get home, loaf of bread in one hand takeaway carton of barbecue in the other, it’s 9:30pm. I flick on the light and an army of cockroaches scatter, diving for the darkness under the sofa and television as I unleash a flurry of stamps which kills twelve or twenty of the little creatures. Twelve or twenty amounts to nothing. I long ago abandoned the kitchen to the clever beasts. They have taken my cupboards and even my fridge. The kitchen is a red-zone. The hobs don’t have gas anyway.

Oriental cockroaches are more handsome than their brutish American cousins, don’t you agree?

At least eating out is cheap.

I don’t dare to think of the cockroaches in my bedroom. I don’t allow the thought of them crawling over my warm body to enter my mind. It’s too much. I can’t.

I see them on my desk at work. Not actual cockroaches but their shadows. Ghosts. I see them from the corner of my eye, scuttling over the smooth, clean table of my desk. When I look, they disappear. They retreat back into the cracks appearing in my brain. I don’t ask if anybody else saw them. There’s nothing there. I’m haunted.

Six months in. Summer comes. It’s really hot. My gas is fixed but the air conditioning is broken. It’s forty degrees and I sleep in sweat, my mattress still damp. I spend as little time at home as possible. I have friends. There are women.

The cockroaches don’t mind the change in temperature. They no longer fear me and I’ve all but gotten used to their presence. I don’t stamp them anymore and have harboured a kind of grudging respect for them. Killing them makes it worse, the internet says.

Life goes on.

Read the next chapter of my story: The Emei Mountain Adventure

Going Away to Get Lost

I’ll never live abroad, he said.

Twenty-two years old and passing through baggage checks at Heathrow as quickly as I’d accepted the job. The chess pieces wrapped in boxer shorts suddenly feel ridiculous. One half space-saving-piece-protecting-masterstroke, one half inconvenient-lunatic-blunder. I am on my way to Chongqing, China. The city’s name almost sounds racist. Teaching in China: not a dream, but a harsh reality. It was the only job offer out of twenty that I had received. I’ll come back and try in a year, I thought. The dreams of the child, of being a prince; the dreams of the schoolboy, of being a footballer; the dreams of the teenager, of being a sports therapist, an officer in the army, a writer; the dreams of the student, of being an editor. All these dreams swept aside for reality. The reality of the graduate; under-qualified teacher in China.

Suddenly I’m through security and the departure lounge with its bars, restaurants, shops and that warm, perfumy smell of the duty-free is like a huge womb. I feel an odd lift as if suddenly anything is possible. As if I have somehow become invincible. I’m alone and unknown. I don’t even have a phone. I make my way to the pub. Not a real pub but an imitation of a pub. I buy a beer and sit down next to an attractive woman a few years older than myself. I’m thinking of Fight Club, of single use friends. I wonder if she’ll be my Tyler Durden. We chat, swap stories. We even laugh. She has a boyfriend. She’s going to see him. I get a little drunk. It’s what adults do. She doesn’t drink. She doesn’t ask me to punch her.

The flight is long, quiet. Nobody is sitting either side of me. No single use friend. I have a few more drinks but I can’t sleep. I can’t watch any more films. I get into thinking, wondering. What if there’s nobody waiting for me at the other side? I’ve got no phone. What if this is all a scam? Perhaps there is someone waiting and aren’t who they say they are. My nose starts to bleed.

By the time I get off the plane my mind is a toxic medley of lack of sleep, alcohol and too much thinking, but at least I’m sober. I’m greeted cheerfully by the man that hired me, an Egyptian, and slightly less cheerfully by another guy who flew in on the same day as me, a fellow Brit. He landed 4 hours earlier. Two women who don’t seem to contribute much are also there and my toxin riddled brain can’t help but process lust. They are both Chinese, not ugly. My false invincibility still holds and my unshaven face, alcoholic sweat and slight beer belly are faded from my consciousness. At least I brushed my teeth.

Can’t pee.

We’ve been in the hospital for over an hour doing our medical checks; the last thing is to pee in a cup. I’ve drank a dozen cups of water but I can’t give up my urine. I’ve even done a shit in the mean time but still my bladder refuses to give up my liquid secrets. Everyone’s getting bored waiting for me, the boy who can’t pee. To save time I steal someone else’s pee. I hope they aren’t diseased. Outside, I have the longest pee of my life.

Not enough money.

I need to to put a deposit on an apartment. Can barely afford utensils. I haven’t had a phone this modest since I was twelve. It can call and it can text and the battery lasts a week. The company gives me an advance, the man who hired me lends me more. It barely registers how close I am to total destitution. Everywhere I go, Chinese men offer me cigarettes. It doesn’t take long for me to start taking them. Everybody spits on the street a lot.

I try spitting, too.

Read the next chapter of my story: Haunted Away From Home

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