Friday, May 3, 2024

Robert Reich

This is not the usual bill of fare you will find here, but I thought you might enjoy a change of pace.  Those of us who grew up in a similar era, might be familiar with Big Sur and the off-beat stories from that location along the beautiful Monterey coastline:

Robert Reich

1:03 AM (9 hours ago)
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My hippie phase, 1969


From time to time, I share with you some of my personal history so that you understand where my values come from. The late 1960s was a time of experimentation — "sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll" and a lot more.

The giant baby-boom generation was heading out into the world that seemed to many of us to be nuts. Some of us joined cults. Others, urban communes. Others, utopian communities in the countryside.

I wasn't courageous (or foolhardy) enough to do any of these. The closest I came was participating in a T-group (sometimes referred to as a "training" or "sensitivity training" group) one memorable day in 1969.

T-groups were big in the late 1960s. The idea was to help people learn more about themselves through their interactions with others in groups of complete strangers.

At the time, I had a summer job with an architect who was working on designing sustainable buildings in poor communities. I liked him and was learning a great deal from the work he was doing, but I wasn't very good at taking orders. I had a problem with authority — another vestige of my early experiences with bullying.

One weekend I headed down the California coast. Soon, I came to a magical stretch called Big Sur. Its rugged beauty captivated me — the mountains rising straight up from the Pacific, the pungent eucalyptus, the roar of the ocean.

I had read Jack Kerouac's 1962 novel Big Sur (which he typed over a 10-day period onto a teletype roll), and had read Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs, who appear in the novel pseudonymously but clearly recognizable. That they inhabited this same stretch of extraordinary coastland made it feel even more enchanted.

So when I read a notice at the Big Sur post office of a T-group to be held that very evening in the local school, it caught my attention. I had only the vaguest idea of what a T-group was but felt so intoxicated by the place and the associations it spurred that I figured why not? What could go wrong?

I arrived just as people were assembling — about 25 adults ranging in age from early 20s to early 70s. All seemed as perplexed as I was, but excited.

We had gathered in a large empty room, in the center of which was a square athletic mat. There were chairs along all four walls.

Already seated on the far wall was a large balding man with dark hair extending from the sides of his head to below his shoulders, and a big belly.

Without standing, but in a firm voice, the large balding man asked us to choose a chair and sit down as soon as possible so we could begin.

When we had, he looked slowly around the room, making eye contact with each of us. His face was stern. He said he was the "facilitator" of the group, then asked us to state our names and what we hoped to achieve in the group.

When it was my turn, I gave my name and said I was curious about T-groups and eager to see how he would be facilitating it.

After everyone had spoken, silence.

Then the large balding man looked directly at me. "You are I are gonna wrestle," he said.

Several people in the group laughed. A few gasped.

"Sorry?" I said, pretending I hadn't heard him, biding for time to decide what to do or say.

He stood up. He was immense. He pointed to the mat. "You ever wrestle?"

"W, well …" I stammered. "A bit." In fact, I had wrestled in high school. It was the one sport I managed to do fairly well, although I didn't stick with it for long.

"Get into the starting position," he said. "Hands and knees down."

More laughter from the group.

I did as ordered, walking to the center of the mat and falling to my hands and knees. Then he got down on his knees next to me. He put one of his big arms and hands around my waist, and with his other hand held one of my arms. The standard referee's position for beginning a match.

But this was absurd. Wrestlers are matched according to weight. His was at least three times mine.

"Ready?" he asked without waiting for my answer. "Go!"

In a split second, he was on top of me. I felt as if I was caught in a landslide and a mountain had buried me.

Most of wrestling is about leverage. I knew from my high school days that if I could just squeeze myself out from under him, I might be able to use his body mass against him. If I could flip him on his back, he would have a hard time moving.

So the moment I escaped from under him, I angled my body on top of and across his back, grabbed one of his arms and legs, and pulled with all my might, forcing him onto his back. Then I pivoted myself cross-ways over his shoulders and chest, and held him down for several seconds.

It was over.

Several members of the group applauded.

I stood up, panting heavily, and began to walk back to my chair.

Suddenly he grabbed my ankle from behind. I lost my balance and fell onto the mat, on my back. I was too startled to yell. His entire body was on my chest. I could barely breathe. I was shocked and panicked. What's happening? Who is this man? Is he going to kill me?

With the little remaining air in my lungs, I called out to the group. "Help! Please! Pull him off me!"

They were just as shocked as I was. Several rose from their chairs and grabbed him. He resisted for a moment, then rolled over. I got up and collapsed in a chair.

He walked quickly out of the room.

I was dazed, out of breath, upset. "Thank you," I whispered to my rescuers, who had returned to their chairs. They seemed equally confused and alarmed.

I expected the group to grab their things and leave, but they remained in their chairs.

"What the hell was that all about?" I asked no one in particular.

"I think he's nuts," said one of my rescuers.

"He didn't expect you to pin him, and when you did he went ballistic," said another.

"I thought it was just play-acting until he grabbed your ankle," said a third.

"He looked angry when he stormed out," said another.

"I doubt he's coming back."

"Anyone know anything about him?" No one did.

I asked the group whether they wanted to leave. They all chose to stay and talk.

Some spoke of their personal experiences with violent parents or partners. They were asked how they had coped. A few broke down in tears.

I talked about being bullied as a kid because of my height. I told them about the second-graders who held me upside down over the toilet in the boy's room and threatened to plunge my head in, and that after that I didn't want to use the boy's room. About feeling humiliated that I had to find protectors. About Mickey and the bullies who murdered him.

Others told equally harrowing personal stories.

I don't remember how long this went on.

At one point, the large balding man came back into the room and quietly sat down.

Our conversation stopped. All of us looked at him. He smiled rather sheepishly.

"Can you tell us what that was about?" I asked him.

"What?" he asked, as if he hadn't almost killed me.

"The wrestling. Your grabbing me by the ankle as I was heading back to the chair. You putting all your weight on my chest. My having to call out for help. You storming out of the room. What were you doing? And why me?"

He looked around at the group, then at me. After a long pause, he answered, "I didn't think you'd pin me."

A few people laughed. I was angry. "So it was revenge? You were upset that I pinned you and your pride was hurt, and you had to take it out on me?"

"No, no." he said.

"Then why the hell did you do that?"

"Because I knew you and I had to fight it out."

"What are you talking about?"

"From the moment we went around the room introducing ourselves, I figured you were gonna challenge me. You were gonna try to run this group."

"That's absurd," I said.

"Not at all," he said. "Look at you. Right now. You're running the group. You've taken over my role."

"You're wrong. I just stepped in. You'd left. We didn't know what to do. I just asked people if …."

"Exactly," he said. "And look where you're sitting."

Suddenly I realized that I had taken the seat he occupied when the group began.

"We would have had to fight it out, sooner or later," he said. "Much better to get it over with right away. And how wonderfully it's worked out!" He looked around the room and smiled. "Some of you came to his rescue. You worked together. And since then, I expect you've been having a fine discussion. You've learned a lot."

At that, he rose from his chair — the chair I had been sitting in at the start — and said "My work here is done. Thanks for coming." Then he walked out of the room, for the second and last tim

Juan Matute
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― The Lincoln Project

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