When I arrived in Canada I was a very shy young boy in a strange new environment. At age 9, we left Greece and I was transported to an alien environment; Canada. Before we left Greece to go to Canada my grandfather took me aside. He sat me down and gave me the best advice I could have ever received. He told me of the time he spent with English soldiers during WWI.
“I spent time with the English and there is something that you should know going to Canada where there are a lot of English people.” He said lowering his voice dramatically. I sensed he was about to tell me something very important. “When you sit to eat with them do not dare burp after you eat. They will think you are a barbarian. But when they start farting at the end of the meal, pretend you don’t smell it” he said in a very serious tone.
I laughed out loud but inside I felt scared to go to a land where the smell of the food and the smell of the toilet was in the same room. This advice eventually became what I later understood to be perspectivism. It’s all relative. One culture’s beliefs and customs may not be shared by another. When we got to Canada this idea became my motto. I began to observe before I reacted. If I ate at the lunchroom in school I ate quickly and left. I was very shy and had to learn English and that was very difficult so I spent a great deal of time watching television and reading books in order to learn the pronunciation and the English language.
But in math class I was a genius! In my own country, I was taught how to multiply and add in my head, by adding and multiplying the big numbers first. In Canada the students were taught to write it down on a piece of paper and then multiply and then add the small numbers. So when the teacher would write the numbers on the blackboard, I would excitedly shout out the answers before she had the chance to turn to face the class. In Athens I was only an average student but here I was suddenly at the top of my class. Just as I was beginning to get comfortable with my new classmates, the school Principal decided I was too advanced for grade 3 and put me in grade 4 in the middle of the school year. Kids started calling me a brainer which I liked but others called me racist names like grease ball. There was racial tension at the school due to the large influx of immigrants into a mainly English working class area. Many of them were the working poor and living in assisted housing buildings where rents were subsidized by the city.
Having been warned about the English by my grandfather I did not respond. I pretended I did not hear it. It must be the way they express themselves I thought to myself like farting after a meal. They even called me wop for which I looked up the meaning in the dictionary. It meant: handsome, dashing and a well-dressed person. I began to respond by saying thank you. Some got more aggressive and threatened to beat me up. I tried to avoid them. I would hide in a crowd, or by changing my route to school at the sight of them. I joined the track team and trained in the 100-yard dash. I was the fastest in my school. I wanted to make sure they could not catch me. I would go home and do endless knee bends, push-ups and sit-ups. The fear did not go away.
So I began to read biographies looking for others like myself in order to get some guidance on how to deal with my situation. This was how I met Malcolm X. I picked up his autobiography one day and read it through the night. It is very befitting that direct knowledge of ancient Hellenic culture was transmitted to me via an African American — more on this connection between Hellenic and African culture later.
Stopping the Bully
There was one particular bully in grade 6 who looked like TV character Dennis the Menace (blond haired, blue eyed) constantly trying to pick a fight with me. He would call me names like grease ball and I dreaded having to walk through the schoolyard in the morning. I would try to hide in the crowd and make it to class before he could see me and begin his daily taunts and threats of beating me up.
Malcolm to the rescue
One day after seeing a news program about the civil rights movement in America on television and a debate between Malcolm X and an academic, I picked up Malcolm X’s autobiography at the library. I ran home and read it into the night. I was transfixed by his personal story of overcoming adversity and becoming one of the greatest orators and most feared debaters of his generation. He rose from the mean streets of Harlem to challenge the leading academics of his time. He was able to win all the debates on the political and social issues facing America in the 60s and soon no-one else would dare challenge him. His religious beliefs did not stop him from making clear and rational arguments against segregation. The great minds of the day failed to make the case for their continued pseudo enslavement and tyrannical rule over the African American population. It took an uneducated street hustler to bring them to their knees. He reminded them that African Americans were not always slaves they were Kings and Queens once in Africa with a civilization. They built pyramids and civilizations in the upper Nile River while Europe did not even exist. White men of Northern Europe still lived in caves and huts acted like animals. See: Bersekers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berserker
Connecting with my ancient Hellenic ancestors
For the first time I sensed a feeling of excitement and emotional self-confidence deeper than anything I had ever experienced before. I would get excited when I was able to quickly find an answer to a math question in my head. But this new feeling was beyond anything I ever felt before. It was a physical sensation that awakened something deeper and made me feel there was a well of inner strength inside me. Some people call it being in the now, or relaxed attentiveness; I call it emotional self-confidence or rational embodiment, because it is so firmly rooted in the body and deep emotion. It felt like I was connecting with my ancestors the great Hellenic warriors. This type of emotional self-confidence is a type of feeling where everything seems to fall into place. The opposite is egotism. Egotism is an out of touch sense of reality and our place in it. Egotism is rooted in the mind cut off from physical experience. It is rooted in the Socratic/Platonic disembodied intellectual mind games; in their world wrong could be right and right could be wrong. Theoretical intellect took over and has ruled over us ever since. Egotism is one of its forms. Bullies are egotists they have no emotional self-confidence that is why they form gangs and groups they cannot stand alone and unaided against their perceived enemies. I stayed up all night reading Malcolm X autobiography.
PART 3 will be published tomorrow
Originally published at medium.com