When I was in my late twenties and working as a youth pastor, I fortunately bumped into a woman I had worked with when I was a teenager at the Lime Ridge Mall movie theater. Oh, the good old days when the mall had a theater… and herds of cockroaches because of the food court and Bulk Barn. Side story, on my one shift a customer found a cockroach in their nachos – nasty – and they politely returned what was left and asked for their money back without any anger or attack. I’m not sure if that meant people twenty years ago were nicer or we just lucked out on a customer who was nicer than a lot of people today who seem to be one wrong mistreatment away from exploding or they’re entitled and ready to demand free stuff without any concern for the worker’s value. This side story leads to an important point. When I write, “Don’t be the weak Gazelle,” I don’t mean be a jerk. Jerks are… jerks. The world would be much better off if it was filled with nice people. Jerks ruin things and make good people want to hide, which is a double hit for the world because jerks get more attention while the good people limit how much good they do because they’re too scared to want to be noticed.
This former co-worker mentioned she had her black belt (very impressive) and she was kind enough to offer to run a self defence course for my youth group (she’s one of the few good people who’s not afraid… I think the black belt helps). Her class was a night I won’t forget… well, I forget pretty much everything that happened (I have a terrible memory), but her opening was fantastic. She had everyone line up and walk up to her one at a time. After shaking the person’s hand, she directed them to go to her left or right. I figured she was dividing us up into teams, but the numbers were far from equal, and I was on a much smaller team. When everyone was put into their groups, she announced that the people to her left were at high risk of being mugged while the group on the right were fine. I was on the right, and at first I was nervous because I was thinking we were the group who were too ugly or poor to bother mugging. (Could I have had self esteem issues back then?) When we asked why, she calmly replied when she was shaking people’s hands, she was looking to see who looked her in the eyes and gave a firm handshake. If you did both of those things, you were put into the group on the right. I definitely felt better about that and gave a sigh of relief. If I was in the other group, that would’ve looked terrible as the leader… and I felt better that it wasn’t because we were too ugly or poor to bother attacking. That being said, if that’s how she was dividing us, that would’ve been pretty terrible… and hilarious (I have a dark sense of humor). She then explained that if you look confident, muggers aren’t going to risk attacking you. They want to find the person who is the least likely to fight back. The rest of the night was spent with her teaching how to protect ourselves from basic attacks to feel empowered and confident. I don’t remember the moves, but I do remember her saying when in doubt go for the eyes, ears, nose, throat, or crotch. There’s no such thing as fighting dirty when you’re trying to protect yourself, so have fun. She also mentioned the importance of not setting yourself up to be at risk of an attack. Her basic advice could be summarized as “Don’t be stupid.” We are responsible for ourselves and to limit the risks we face, so don’t be stupid. This is especially important for young people to consider because trying to have fun can get them in a lot of trouble, especially with drinking where the kind of trouble tends to look different for the two genders – guys are more likely to do things that get them physically hurt while girls are more likely to get used sexually. Whatever you do, be smart in how you do it.
I was recently explaining this story to someone and used the term “Don’t be the weak gazelle.” This follows the idea of not being stupid. It also takes this lesson beyond mugging, which is something that doesn’t happen as much anymore since people don’t usually carry cash on them and aren’t worth attacking. We’re more at risk of identity theft or more technology based scams. It’s nice to know criminals are growing with the times better than I am.
“Don’t be the weak gazelle” is important advice to consider because the weak and sickly gazelles are the ones who get picked off by predators. Lions aren’t going to waste their energy chasing the young and healthy gazelles that are more likely to get away. Lions want to conserve energy and go for the more guaranteed kill. Bullies do the same thing. If you need to pick on someone to feel better about yourself, you’re not going to risk going for someone who can fight back and potentially make you look bad. You go for the weakest person. “Don’t be the weak gazelle” isn’t to say we should set others up to fail. It also doesn’t mean your goal is to surround yourself with weaker people, so they’re more likely to be the target. Instead, surround yourselves with the strong gazelles and be strong with them in order to make the lions move on to find a weaker herd to attack.
Not being the weak gazelle is about looking confident. It doesn’t mean you have to “feel” confident. You can feel socially anxious, but don’t look it. How can you not look scared or weak? Follow the adage of “Fake it until you make it,” or as the Bible says, “clothe yourself” (Col 3:12). When it comes to being happy, there is proof that by making yourself smile, you can feel happier whereas if you act sad, you’ll feel more defeated. In a similar way, if you act confident, you’ll start to feel confident. Walk taller, keep your shoulders back, and keep your head up. Good posture naturally helps confidence. If you really want, work on a bit of a swagger. Just don’t slouch, look mopey, or walk like you could fall down crying at any time because you’ll become a target.
Not being the weak gazelle is also important to consider in marriage. If you act weak in your marriage, your partner will eventually burn out or get resentful because it’ll feel like they’re pulling more of the weight. In marriage, you’re meant to be a partnership and not a “relient-ship” where you rely on your partner to carry you.
One of the biggest issues in our western culture is parents and people in the education system acting like the weak gazelle by bowing down to kids’ needs. It’s like they’re saying, “A kid is upset? We must change everything to fit their needs! They should never be told no or they might learn that life isn’t all about them,” “No child should ever be sad because they’re too weak and pathetic to handle disappointment unlike me who is so mature,” or “We don’t want kids to struggle or they might learn how to deal with it. If we can’t coddle them, how can we feel important? If they don’t rely on us, what’s our purpose?” Sorry, my sarcasm came out pretty strong there. I get so angry at adults who cower to their kids’ needs. Kids need to get upset. Kids are supposed to get sad. Kids are supposed to feel like they can’t have everything they want because it’s a parent’s job to prepare their children for life and not spoil them. Kids need to suffer while having the safety of their parents nearby because one day they’re going to grow up and need to be able to suffer and handle it on their own. We need to help our kids not be the weak gazelle or life will swallow them up. And this makes me angry because I have to remind myself of this lesson every time my daughters cry. I don’t want to see them upset, but I need to let them figure out how to deal with it because that’s part of growing up into emotionally healthy people. We need to learn how to properly cope and it’s easier when you’re young and people still care.
This week may you consider what it means to not be the weak gazelle.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)