I’m a relatively effective communicator and for the most part, that has served me well in life. Back in 1989, my friend and I were in a guitar shop when my friend was targeted by a guy who didn’t like him for some reason. When we left, that guy followed us out of the store and wanted to fight my friend. I stepped in, smoothly talking to the guy, calming him down, telling a few jokes, and eventually, he went one way and we went the other. I thought, “Hey, I bet I could talk my way out of anything!”
A few months later, I was in the city park in Penticton (a resort town near Kelowna where I grew up). It was about midnight on a Friday (my friends and I were camping nearby) and as we were walking through the park, a car pulled over and some headbangers got out. (You remember the fabled headbanger, don’t you? They used to roam the wilds of North America sporting mullets, jean jackets with Iron Maiden back-patches, skin-tight jeans, and high tops.) They began running toward us screaming that they were going to kill us. (You could ask why they did that, but that’s like asking why the great white shark attacks the seal: it’s just what head-bangers do.)
My friends wisely took off. But after running a few paces, I remembered that I could talk my way out of any situation. With my rhetorical prowess and charming grin, I could even tame the savage headbanger, surely.
And so, I stopped running and turned on my heel: “Hey guys, I…” I began with a winsome smile. And bam, I was being punched in the face. Down on the ground and being kicked in the head and the ribs. Eventually, we moved through the park and then I was being beaten up on the main road when a trucker pulled over and chased the headbangers away.
That was one of the least pleasant moments of my teen years. But all the same, it taught me a valuable life lesson: you can’t talk your way out of every situation because some people are unable and unwilling to listen. They only want to destroy you. As Alfred (Michael Caine) soberly observes in The Dark Knight (when speaking of Joker):
“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
I know that fact all too well. And that sober life lesson has served me well.