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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Into the funny a little hostility must fall
By Gene Weingarten, Washington Post
Published March 9, 2008
WASHINGTON - My last name is pretty uncommon, so whenever I encounter it, I take notice. But the other day, when I found a Web site belonging to a man named Weingarten, I really snapped to attention. I actually needed this guy. I got him on the phone.
Me: I see from your Web site that you are an expert in "communicating with compassion."
Uzi Weingarten: Yes.
Me: I'm snide, sarcastic, insensitive, overbearing and self-important. Everyone I meet is fodder for ridicule. I'll trash venerable institutions for a cheap laugh. I'll savage politicians unfairly, just because I know they can't sue. I'm a smart-ass, and I'm ready to change. I need your help.
Me: But first, I want to ask you a question.
Me: What kind of an idiot name is "Uzi" for someone who teaches compassionate communication? It's like getting a lesson in friendly negotiation from Machine Gun Kelly. Why'd your parents name you that? Was Knuckles Weingarten already taken?
Me: You see my problem.
Uzi: I do. You can call me "Ben," if you'd prefer.
Me: You are a very, very calm man.
Uzi: Yes. That's the point.
Me: You have the calmest voice I've ever heard. You make HAL the computer sound like Gilbert Gottfried. So, where'd the "Uzi" come from?
Uzi: It's short for Uziel. From the Old Testament.
Me: You're Jewish?
Uzi: I am.
Me: Here's a good one. A Jewish grandma is walking on the beach with her toddler grandson, and suddenly a giant wave rolls in, sweeps the boy up and carries him out to sea. Grandma can't swim. She sinks to her knees and tearfully begs God for help. "If you save my grandson, I will go to synagogue every day to sing your praises!" Another giant wave rolls in, and it deposits her grandson, dazed but unhurt, beside her on the sand. The grandma looks up at the heavens and says, "You know, hehad a hat."
Me: Okay, we can talk compassion. Say you're on a plane, where people are crammed together like anchovies, and some of them don't smell much better because they take their shoes off, like the fat guy in front of you who reclines his seat into your lap as though he was alone in the world. What would be a compassionate way of communicating your objections?
Uzi: I might ask the stewardess to reseat me. Or just accept it. As a society, we have decided we prefer low air fare to legroom.
Me: You are so . . . reasonable.
Uzi: Getting angry is just punishing yourself for somebody else's stupidity.
Me: See, in this case, I would have gone with a wet willy.
Uzi: What's that?
Me: You put your index fingers in your mouth, then in his ears, then twist like you're trying to bore a hole.
Uzi: Not good communication.
Me: Try this. Mike Huckabee, who was an actual, serious candidate for president of the United States, believes the Earth is, like, 9,000 years old. This is a religiously sensitive issue. So, if you were a journalist like me, how would you ask Mr. Huckabee about this in a compassionate manner?
Uzi: I'm not sure I would ask about that at all.
Me: See, I would. I would say, "Governor, regarding your views on planetary science, do you also believe the moon is the bloody head of the Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui, who was killed by her brother Huitzilopochtli after he leaped from his mother's womb, fully grown, wielding a knife?"
Uzi: What you are doing is mocking Mr. Huckabee, which is making him look good and you look bad.
Me: But it's funny!
Uzi: I didn't laugh, did I?
Uzi: I hear your concern. You are concerned that if you learn to be compassionate, you will no longer be funny. But your unspoken concern is that you will lose your ability to earn a living. Am I right?
Me: You are good.
Uzi: Thank you. It is called empathy. It's about the fullness of the message. That is the magic of communicating with compassion. I think if you took the first two lessons of my course, which I offer over the phone for free, my sense of you is that you could be even funnier, in a less hostile way.