Butterfly Punch: Shaming your opponent into putting on kid gloves before you knock him out.
Think back to a time when you fought really hard for something. Back then, how sure were you that you were right? How sure are you now that you were? If youâ€™re like me, you pick your battles, and sometimes you pick wrong. You also intuitively track how often you changed your mind later about your choice to fight. I donâ€™t mean meticulouslyâ€”I probably remember more clearly the times when I was right than the times I was wrong to fight. Still, in some cases Iâ€™m glad I stood my ground. In others, I wish I hadnâ€™t. So now when I confront people, I do so under the shadow of the accumulated evidence that Iâ€™ve made mistakes. That kind of shadow can cramp your fighting style.
One of the main things we focus upon when we launch into a confrontation is who is the more determined, stubborn, or steadfast. Uncertainty can signal weak resolve, and knowing youâ€™ve been wrong before causes uncertainty.
Ideally we wouldnâ€™t fight. When a difference of opinion arose we would discuss it calmly and decide together who was right or how to handle the situation. If everyone in the world were naturally limited to behaving this way, fighting wouldnâ€™t be necessary. But at least some of us have it in us to fight, so peace, respect, and an open mind donâ€™t always provide the answer. Indeed, all us have it in us to fightâ€”or at least those who donâ€™t (given the numbers of those who do) wonâ€™t survive. Fighting calls for closed-minded resolve. Discussing calls for open-minded receptivity.
Iâ€™ve been in a few conflicts lately with people whoâ€”in the midst of the conflictâ€”coached me to be respectful, not insult, stop being closed-minded, be more generous. I hate to discover that Iâ€™m like the people I loathe. I think itâ€™s one of the worst feelings, one that people generate elaborate double standards to avoid. If it turns out Iâ€™m just another one of those despicably cocky mean-hearted closed-minded asses, Iâ€™m in real trouble with myself. So when Iâ€™m fighting and people tell me to stop being closed-minded and start being more generous, Iâ€™m of half a mind to back down at once, apologize, and concede that Iâ€™ve made a terrible mistake. But Iâ€™m of another half a mind as well. In the context of a fight, if my opponent, naturally trying to get the upper hand tells me to be more open, respectful, or generous, thatâ€™s a dirty trick. Perhaps itâ€™s not meant as a dirty trick. Perhaps itâ€™s just the solution that seems obvious to any of us when weâ€™re unconstrainedly confident of being right. If youâ€™re sure youâ€™re right and you encounter resistance, well, itâ€™s obvious the resistance is wrong and should be removed. But whether itâ€™s meant to be a dirty trick or just has that effect, one shouldnâ€™t back down in the face of such supposedly high-minded shaming. At the extreme, imagine the recently deceased Indonesian dictator, Suharto, who killed half a million of his own people. To the resistance he would say, â€œBe more respectful, donâ€™t insult, stop being closed-minded, be more generous.â€
My wife and I prided ourselves on being generous, considerate people. When we decided to divorce, we assumed we would do arbitration and that it would be fairly easy because we were both reasonable and would be able to discuss and decide together who was right about what and how to handle the situation. We tried that for a whileâ€”but the stakes were high, and neither of us could resist the temptation to demand a bit more, be a bit stubborn, fight for what we wanted. The arbitration felt unrealistic to both of us and gradually by a generous kind of mutual agreement (rather than an escalating nastiness) we signaled to each other that this was a fight and should be treated that way. She got her lawyer; I got mine. They duked it out. Neither of us were outlandish in our demands, but we stood our ground and in the end felt better for it. We enjoyed the civility of a fight when a fight was called for. Yeah, maybe it would have been better to arbitrate if we could, but calling a fight a fight, and not fighting dirty by pretending it was some kind of civilized give-and-take so each could try to shame the other into concedingâ€”that was a kindness Iâ€™ve always been grateful to her for, and she to me.