Feb 6, 2013

The Bantam Menace

Dear Ask A Punk
I don't have many friends, but I have a small steady crew that we've known each other since we were kids. We're not in a band, but we go to shows together and most weekends we're doing something because thats what friends do together and there aren't alot of things to do where I live. the problem is that one of my friends is constantly getting into problems and fights that he can never win, but he always thinks that we all will automatically back him up because we are his friends. He's like the smallest guy anyway and I know if I was him I wouldn't start trouble all the time. I'm not a pussy or anything but I don't want to be in some dumb fight every weekend just because he is being an asshxle to some people who I don't even know and probably wouldn't have had any problems with otherwise. What do you do here? We have told him to stop but he doesn't. Sometimes I just want to let him get his ass kicked or something. 
=no fight club

Dear NFC-
The first quick cliche' that most people would jump to here is that your friend has a Napoleon complex, that he is over-compensating for being so small by being an over-sized ass, but I don't tend to buy into that. I've known plenty of overly-aggressive, total assholes who were tall/huge. Automatically labeling your friend's issue as a Napoleon thing is sort of like the male/female double-standard. If I guy is pushy and driven he is somehow impressive, but if a woman exhibits the same characteristics, she is "a bitch."  It is a a little too reductive and "easy" to just throw these labels on human behavior.  I'm not saying your friend isn't an ass. I'm sure most people have had that one friend who is always causing trouble for everyone else - either by picking fights or by just coming up with really bad ideas that he (or she) expects everyone to be on board with. 

You have to try to figure out the real reasons why your friend is acting out. If he is small and yet still insists on starting trouble and picking fights with people he knows he can't beat, that sounds more like a self-destructive streak than anything else. When it is just you and him and the rest of your pals, with no tempting outside targets around, how does he act? Does he put out a lot of negativity about himself? Do you get the feeling he would punch himself in the face if he could? If yes, that might explain why he tries to find other people willing to do it for him. Figuring out where that impulse comes from would be the next step - and a lot more complicated. What are things like for him at home? Does he live in a personal war zone? If his home life is OK, what about his personal habits? - Is he drinking or otherwise medicating himself more than you might realize? As I asked earlier: How does his personality change when he is: 1) out in public, 2) hanging with just you and your friends and 3) when he is one-on-one with just you ?  Are there major differences between the three? I'm not saying you will be able to figure this stuff out, but it helps to at least try to figure out where his impulses are coming from. 

Getting back to your basic question: What can/should you do about it? Here are some steps to consider:

1) Sit down with him one-on-one, when he's got no "audience" and won't feel like he has something to prove - and when both of you are sober, then just ask him why he is acting out. The key here is to have specific examples. Don't just comment on his general behavior - Pick out the latest incident and ask him what happened. Let him talk. Let him talk a lot. Let him plow through the excuses I'm sure you always hear from him "They started it." etc. Then, as calmly as possible, tell him YOUR version of what happened because here is the thing: He probably isn't consciously lying to you. In his head his version of the incident is what really happened. You'll probably have to walk him through several examples. Your conversation probably won't go very well and he'll probably then try to pick a fight with you. Don't take the bait. 

2) After the one-on-one, if there still hasn't been any progress, you have to talk with the rest of your friends. You have to make sure they are all seeing the same things you are, because maybe your frustration with your friend is clouding your judgement of the situation. If everyone is on the same page, you have to decide what you're ALL going to do about it, and this is where it gets tricky. I understand that, once an incident has started, you can't just abandon your friend and throw him to the wolves, where he might actually get seriously hurt. What you can do is keep those situations from happening by not taking him along in the first place. I know this is very difficult territory. You're all friends and you live in a small place. I'm definitely not saying you should sneak around and not tell him - In fact I'm suggesting you do just the opposite. Tell him. Tell him you're all going out to a show or whatever and that you all want to have a good time without an altercation and that you don't trust him not to ruin your night. He'll call you all assholes. He'll tell you you're over-reacting. He might even apologize and swear that he won't start any trouble. Then you have to decide whether or not to believe him and bring him along anyway. 

The bottom line is: First you have to listen. You have to figure out if all this aggro nonsense is a symptom that your friend is in trouble or pain. Then you have to talk - directly - about what he has been doing and give him the chance to either listen and change or not. If the answer is "not" then you have to decide how badly you do or don't need him in your life. I know that sounds harsh. I know that friends have to stick together and accept each other for who they are... but I also know that you don't have to let their idiocy take your life hostage and maybe even put your life in real, physical danger. Friends are supposed to enrich our lives and make them better and we're supposed to do the same for them. If the relationship becomes a one-way street then guess what: You're not his friend. You're his pawn. You have every right to go out on a Saturday night with your friends and not have to brace yourself for war.

I'm not going to tell you that any of this is easy. In the past, even the recent past, I have had to disconnect from some very close friends for various, but serious, reasons. It can be heartbreaking ...and, truth be told - In the past some of my friends have likewise had to disconnect with me and, at the time, they were probably right to do so. You have a right to decide who you're going to surround yourself with. People who view your friendship as a given and as something they can then take advantage of will, sooner or later, turn on you anyway for not being supportive "enough." Save yourself the time, heartache and potential fistfights. Deal with this directly and humanely and then, if you have to - move on. There are seven billion people out there. You'll find more friends.