— Non-escalating Verbal Self-Defense


"It's How To Change the Mood If Someone Is Mean."








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Insults & Comebacks





"How ya' doin'?" [Total stranger suddenly appearing in front of you]




"I asked you how you are."




"How much is it, if you don't mind my asking?"




I don't
get it!


[Look for codewords in an attack — «how» suggests clinic 17 of 88]


[Respond with just a few words, preparing for an evocative follow-up]



19 March



"That's the right answer."


—All right.
—Just thoughtless.


"Richard! How're you doing, guy?"


Too hot!
—Laughing at pain.


"That's scary the way you said that."


—All right.
—Everyone can use someone who's good! .. Pre-Code Hollywood ... We can always use more ... Too tired to look ... That is a scream!



18 March



"Hi. How are things going?" [From an incessantly intrusive manager]


—It's uncanny.
—There's more ... There's lots of things ... It's really good to be around people who see certain things ... All these things are happening because you're not dead.


"The unemployed need not apply." [For any work]


—That's a selling point ... Fugitives from justice ... That's the nice half of the family ... Conserve your strength ... That's right on top! ... The devil never sleeps ... (Without looking ... which you buy into) ... I don't make mistakes ... The mushroom style of management: Stay in the dark and pile on the shit.


"How have you been, sir? – So far, so good?"


Too hot!
—People either get along or they don't – and it's really nice.


"Hey, man, how are you doing?"


Too hot!
—Playing with danger.



17 March



"You talk funny." [One five-year-old boy to another]


—Sounds serious!
—It's different every day.


"Can't you be serious?"


—Very mysterious.
—Deadly serious.


"I'm glad I'm just wearing a skirt."


—Sounds serious!
—It's called a Danish sense of fun.


"Check your skirt at the door."


—If not ...
—Dress is optional.



16 March



"Did it cost fifty dollars?" [Scornfully]


—Sounds serious!
—Real punishment.


"Does it really matter?"


—If not ...
—Don't worry about it.



15 March



"Going somewhere?"


—If not ...
—Brick by brick, my citizens.


"There's a lesson here somewhere."


—If not ...
—How bad can you get?


"You driving somewhere?" [Bumming a ride after you commit to where you're going]


—Sounds serious!
—Let's not ... Don't cheat me.


"Why aren't you at IBM anymore?"


—Sounds serious!
—So there can be a place naked women can come and yearn for me.



14 March



"Recovery programs are for losers."


—Nothing urgent.
—The dumb ones have no trouble ... It's easy for them to adapt ... You can get used and unused to things very fast ... Emotions are so untidy ... I'm not in trouble, I'm just a kid! ... Who knows what's going on and I don't want to have anything to do with it ... I don't want to get mixed up in it ... No one comes with a bow and arrow and shoots people ... No one invents radium, either ... It's deliberation, they call it ... I'm so sorry! ... I left you high and dry ... Your money's no good here ... Are you hungry?


"You don't have to be as off-the-rails as Charlie Sheen to get help." (–Neda Ulaby, NPR News)


—Either way.
—If you're scared enough, you will ... Ooops! ... Last Person I Want to Touch at Night! ... It took a tricky hop.


"u dick."


—Nothing urgent.
—That's good enough for me.


"Good luck with your theory."


—Nothing urgent.
—C Sharp Major with a Dominant G ... Maybe it'll be nice.



13 March



"You have to make a decision and stick with it."


—Can't miss.
—Sweet are the uses of adversity.


"As Catholics, we propose and invite – We don't proselytize." (–Sister Margaret Mach of the Catholic Cleveland Diocese, on WBZ-AM radio)


—Very nice.
—I was feeling lonely with the bats and the wolves.


"That's funny, but it's very sacrilegious."


—Either way.
—It's up to you what you spend your energy on, and if it isn't, you should make it so – No one can stand between someone and God.


"Since 1999"

"Social Linguistics – How to Stay Professional if Someone's Rude"





















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Verbal Abuse




An Open Door


I study Japanese in a small Church in El Cerrito. We're in the advanced section. This morning the teacher, in her weekly quiz, asked the class to write (And here she spoke in Japanese:) "Richard comes from San Francisco." It's a subtle translation; three distinct forms of Japanese writing are required. And there's another problem. I'm actually from Berkeley.

The youngest kid in our class is ten, and I'm the oldest: I'm fifty-four. I overheard one of the younger ones saying, "It takes very little to amuse you, doesn't it?" to another kid beside him. There was a little irritation there, expressed in one of those everyday insults everyone has heard before. The trouble is, I haven't heard that one in ten years, and I found myself wondering what to say back! I mean, if I don't know, how's a ten-year-old kid to know?

Then tonight I was talking to my friend, David Van Ness, about the "problem of insults," and he related how a particular woman had asked him, "What are you doing for Thanksgiving?" just the other day (November 2nd). It seems friendly enough, except the other person never volunteers what they're doing for Thanksgiving: It's a one-way form of communication leading from what they "ought to ask" to what we "should say" that completely ignores how we really feel. Help! I don't live in San Francisco; I live in Berkeley!

What I'm doing for Thanksgiving is giving back as much as I possibly can to everyone who at one time or another has needed to be real.


Imagine you are outside looking at the stars with a friend, telling them how you feel about an oppressive or mean comment you heard during the day. David Van Ness says, "When someone attacks, it's like they shine a bright light in your eyes."

Send feedback to (in San Francisco, CA USA), or (in Wilmington, NC USA), and we'll share some of your ideas underneath a picture of the stars! Don't forget to include your first name, age, home town, and country!


How to Deconstruct an Attack

First of all, you have to take yourself out of it.

Remember that scene in Lethal Weapon 4 when the villain played by Jet Li actually "breaks down" the pistol in Mel Gibson's hand, before he even has a chance to pull the trigger? Okay, it's just a movie, but it's an extremely useful metaphor for certain aspects of emotional intelligence. You "go for" the weapon, the elbow, or the knee. It's very specific. You don't just say, "Defend yourself, using martial arts!" You rehearse for defending yourself from everyday attacks by learning particular "moves" and "gestures," which you can also think of as "impromptu scripts."

Many scripts are far from obvious, because of how we were socialized — We were taught to "go along" with people who were pushing us around, or to "get along" with everybody (indiscriminately). For instance, do you know how an adult might disarm you (with a sense of humor) if you said, "Go stand in the corner!"

"Short and sweet" ripostes are neutral; some are conciliatory; some enforce boundaries; the "who or what" don't matter for certain ideas to be effective. The actors can change; the situations can change; the focus for deconstructing verbal violence stays the same ... on disarming the attack itself, often unnoticeably. Once neutral, you can add a sense of humor and a sense of forceful poetry: a person does not have to be serious to learn something! Many, many verbal attacks take the form of "murdering you with the mundane." So let us continue:

"Where are the dogs?" is a wonderful example of the mundane. It's a question of where do we go from there? It's equivalent to asking a nuclear physicist, "Where are the electrons?" When you pin down an electron, the magic of quantum mechanics completely disappears. So, what do they care about the geophysical coordinates of your little dogs, or electrons, even if you knew? Some people say small talk is an act of social grooming — simply an exchange of dithers and scratches. But how do they know where you itch? What a waste!

You can have a lot of fun, and get to the root of their manifest concern, (and veiled concerns,) by responding to the codeword, "where," with a simple, "—Not alone." It's fast, easy, and poetic. You can follow it up with, "—Don't let the cat out of the bag, whatever you do."

A smarmy, "Where are the boys?" [meaning, your dogs], provides a "good-old-boy" variation, as if you're supposed to "go along" with their "friendly" attack. The presuppositions are ideas such as, "You're a fool," "You do it with dogs," and "You can't even exist without your dogs." These veiled themes may or may not be present: they are latent components, or potential aspects of the question.

Well, then. A sense of humor flips up a "friendly" defense, "—It's genetic," followed by an equally foolish: "—I fell in love with a banana and married it."

Here, the disarming act is to bring tacit themes into the light, where they simply evaporate.

All of this is a lot of work! In Non-escalating Verbal Self-Defense, you don't explain, don't complain, and don't analyze! Wow! So, how do you not do all that?

You take yourself out of it.

This website is a dictionary for emotional intelligence: using a strategy of "divide-and-conquer," it shuttles all human communication into eighty-eight categories, half of which are based on the informal fallacies of classical rhetoric. (Four examples — The Fallacy of Complex Question, Tu Quoque, Argumentum ad Verecundiam, and Ignoratio Elenchi — and forty others are defined in the Introduction)

Street-smart people, or people who traffic in emotional intelligence, don't analyze that way; they don't grapple with syntax or semantics, either. And they cut straight through sarcasm! All they have to hear are certain "codewords," which let them respond immediately, without thinking or feeling! They do not become emotionally or intellectually "involved" in an attack, and with a practiced sense of humor, they have a choice: to engage themselves fully with another person, or to take themselves out of it!

1. [index of codewords]

2. [index of attacks or "tricks"]

3. [index of two-word "wings"]

4. [index of follow-up "ideas"]

In order to navigate through this site, you have to explore it. You are in the same plight as a visitor arriving at the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco on a sunny day — without knowing the layout of the City. You don't know the Golden Gate Bridge is burnt orange, and you only have a vague idea of the Ocean. This website has over one hundred pages!

5. [index of essays]

6. [index of art]

7. [site map]

8. [fallacies]

The eighty-eight categories at this website are arranged in a particular order, corresponding to a poetic interpretation of the ancient Tarot, representing stages of development in a child's life, ages one to twenty-two — introducing A Bully, for example, at a very young age, and A Turncoat, for example, in later years. This is a convenient and totally arbitrary way to arrange the eighty-eight categories, and it takes some getting used to. So does a Japanese dictionary!

I like order, because I am by training a systems programmer from Dartmouth College, IBM, a think tank in Cambridge, and Atari, who started driving a taxicab in San Francisco when my last employer canned everyone back in the 'eighties. I thought, "Jeez, you know, wouldn't it be nice to make sense out of everything?" So I wrote a book, printed it, and sold it out of my cab. A year later I made a Second Edition, and sold it out, too. Then I made a Third Edition. Also gone! So what we have here is the open source code and database for a street-smart robot named Electra, which is updated every day, and better off for it! Electra. A teaching robot for kids.

9. [the writer]

10. [the painter]

11. [coverage]

12. [press kit]

13. [publicity]

14. [milestones]

Notice how quickly things change: What if someone says, "Where are the dogs, in the doghouse?" Now I can respond to the codeword, "doghouse," and say, "—Sounds serious!" Not wanting to get caught without a backup, we try to provide a unique follow through, such as, "—That's a waste of time." I don't make these things up! It's stuff I hear and write down. My friends and I think of it as stealing from the rich to give to the richer! The only people who really like see it as an adjunct to their communication skills for disarming the effects of people who mindlessly "vent" or who unconsciously "propagate fear and intimidation" downstream in the river of human "mooning." I like to see this Sufic, or Gurdjieffian work as a gesture, aiming light and understanding upstream, back to its source ... which mean people, and people who can't stand calling mean people mean, can't stand. It's sort of miraculous.

15. [Introduction]

16. [Thumbnail User's Guide]

17. [An Old-fashioned Art, for kids!]

18. [Guide to Street-Smarts]

19. [Feedback]

20. [Links]

21. [Mirror]

22. [Navigation]

23. [Moxie's Disease]

24. [Assignment taxi1010]

25. [¿Prumbing? In Engrish!]


A Theory of Human Communication

What if?

Underneath everything.

It's deeper.

Completely different.

Not alone.


Everyone has had something done to them, and many people are frozen in a particular stage of development, and under those circumstances, are doing the best they can. When people communicate, they use sentences, and you can always trace trouble back to a particular sentence, where you can nip verbal violence in the bud.

When communication goes wrong, you can see you have been tricked into being a child. Bill Clinton, for example, is a person you can never trick into being a child; whenever anyone attacks him, telling him he behaves like a child, he responds the way a good father would.

It's very useful to be able to "dumb yourself down," to act no better than anyone else, to act no smarter, no more important, and no more special than other people. This ability is a tool for getting by in an often hostile urban environment. It's closer to your libido, and to the part of you that dreams at night, which contains all the magic.

If you breathe like a baby, from the belly, you can separate yourself from the hysterical emotions of other people. You can stay in touch with your true feelings, and be honest to yourself and to other people. Hold your breath and sense your genitals and you will coast through trouble like a Jedi knight. Get away from mean people and lay low.

When people talk to you, you can see each sentence they utter as a tray, which may be "too hot to handle" or "loaded." If they are attacking you, boring you to death at a party, complaining a little too much, murdering you with the mundane, threatening to hijack your life, intimidating you, or just making you feel uncomfortable, try to see some part of them wants you to feel that way. If their tray (sentence) is filled with nourishment, by all means take part. If their tray bears plastic fruit, garbage, nonsense, or an insult trap, ignore the contents of the tray completely and deconstruct the tray itself. has "impromptu scripts" for doing this, spread over eighty-eight "stargates." It usually takes about three weeks to learn a particular riposte in such a way that your emotions "get it" or catch up. That's why actors do so well in the movies: they rehearse until they understand what they're doing in a very deep way.

Communication is easy if you know when to partake, and when to hole up and heal. I hope these pages offer you nourishment, and that you get a chance to contribute in some way to the common experience of being alive, of being a particular person in a particular place, and of seizing just the moment to help other people along through their natural stages of development.


The best way is through actions, not words.


And if you


Like doing it,


We do, too!



Preparation is Everything

Press Coverage

[Start at the top]



























Open Letter to All Living Presidents of the United States:

I'm getting old. I was born in 1946. When I die, this website, and stuff you – and Google – know nothing about, will disappear fprever. [sic] I am wondering if your Presidential Library can preserve Amoret and my websites [As they are!] from now until the end of time?

As President of the United States, you offer hope for the world. As a San Francisco taxi driver, I offer hope for each individual.


Best always,

Richard Ames Hart

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"Like a Buried Treasure That Never Loses Its Luster."