Command Presence

In occupations such as police work, having a command presence is a skill taught as part of the training for the job:

A well-meaning citizen wants to assist you by setting out warning flares at the scene of a traffic accident. He’s about to ignite a flare when you realize he’s standing in a flow of gasoline from one of the damaged vehicles. He needs to be stopped immediately. There’s no time for explanation. You shout: “Don’t light that flare!” Your strong direction stops him just in time.

It hadn't occurred to me that I might have acquired that skill somehow along my life journey, until one day I needed it.

A group of young teenagers had invited their parents to come see my dance at my usual location in a downtown park. Their dinner had run late however, so they didn't arrive until after dark.

I usually didn't dance after dark. A rougher crowd would come out, smoking and hanging around after drinking in bars, so it didn't feel particularly safe.

I could have said to my fans, "hey, it's getting late, let's reschedule for a better time". But I had been looking forward to the performance, and had already been waiting for them to arrive, and they had made the trip over to see me, so I wanted to get at least one dance in.

After I started my dance one of the guys from who had been hanging out over on the other side of park wandered over into the middle of my performance area and started waving his cigarette around. This doubly annoyed me because not only was I getting a cigarette waved in my face, but also he was interrupting the performance which had already been delayed.

I said, "Please don't smoke here," in an annoyed tone.

He threw his cigarette at me.

A surge of anger went through me. I was holding a dance pole with streamer on it, which I let fall behind me, where it hit the ground with a loud crack.

He said, "Oh yeah? OH YEAH? You want to fight? YOU WANT TO FIGHT?!"

Did I mention that he was six inches taller than I was, and forty pounds heavier... all of it muscle?

At this point an icy calm descended upon me. Some ancient survival instinct woke up saying, "wow, you're being really stupid". A young bull had wandered into a group of young teenagers and their elderly parents, and I had just enraged him.

The first thing I did was to back out of the park, drawing him away my audience.

He started throwing karate kicks at my head. These clipped the sides of my ears, cutting the skin and drawing blood. He was using these kicks to intimidate, to say, "dude, I could kick your head in any time I wanted".

I could have run away (there was a Starbucks open just across the street), but I didn't want to leave him alone with my audience looking for someone else to vent his anger on. I had taken a few classes of karate once, not enough to actually learn any karate, but enough so that someone throwing kicks at me wasn't a totally new and overwhelming experience.

It took me a few moments to catch my breath while he threw kicks at me.

Then I said, "You need to stop".

He ran away. He ran through the park, grabbed his bicycle, and tore off.

He had heard the note of finality in my voice. The parental voice of doom. I meant it. If the situation progressed any further, he was going to end up in jail.

All of which happened faster than it takes to describe it.

We called 911, reported the assault, and I got medical care for my injuries.

At the time I had thought of myself as a victim. I had been trying to give a dance performance, and someone had come beat me up.

And I don't mean to say that his assault was in any way acceptable. If he had been caught after we called 911, he should at least have been given a court mandated anger management class.

Yet, looking back, I realize now that I had actually been in control of the situation.

He had seen us having fun and had wanted to have fun too. He didn't have the social skills to be able to do that effectively, but he hadn't originally come over with the intent to beat me up.

Kind of like Jedi mind control, when I became angry, he precisely mirrored my anger. And when I managed to stop being stupid and started responding to the situation calmly instead of with anger, he mirrored that too.