How do you respond to verbal antagonizing? What to you tell your students? Do you preach confrontation or de-escalation? It is easy to write or talk about how one should act when in a confrontation. It is something else to have it actually happen. I teach de-escalation and avoidance with confrontation as the last option. I had my opportunity to practice what I preach.
A couple of weeks ago, my neighbors a few doors down were having a party. They were having fun and were a little loud, but not bothering anyone. It was a beautiful day and I was going to grill out. I have a charcoal grill and I lit it. It was a little smoky at first and one of the party goers made a comment. I laughed but he kept it up. I told him that it was charcoal and would clear in a minute, but he continued and became belligerent.
I found myself getting angry but I followed my own advice. I did not respond. It was very hard not to escalate. As I sat there I wondered if I were being weak or was I avoiding. There is a fine line between running away and walking away. I did not change what I was doing. I just didn’t respond. My son and I sat out there and laughed to ourselves. Even when I got angry, I knew that beating up an obnoxious drunk guy was not the right thing to do. When I thought of the following story by Paulo Coelho, I calmed down.
The gift of insults
Near Tokyo lived a great Samurai warrior, now old, who decided to teach Zen Buddhism to young people. In spite of his age, the legend was that he could defeat any adversary.
One afternoon, a warrior – known for his complete lack of scruples – arrived there. He was famous for using techniques of provocation: he waited until his adversary made the first move and, being gifted with an enviable intelligence in order to repair any mistakes made, he counterattacked with fulminating speed.
The young and impatient warrior had never lost a fight. Hearing of the Samurai’s reputation, he had come to defeat him, and increase his fame.
All the students were against the idea, but the old man accepted the challenge.
All gathered on the town square, and the young man started insulting the old master. He threw a few rocks in his direction, spat in his face, shouted every insult under the sun – he even insulted his ancestors. For hours, he did everything to provoke him, but the old man remained impassive. At the end of the afternoon, by now feeling exhausted and humiliated, the impetuous warrior left.
Disappointed by the fact that the master had received so many insults and provocations, the students asked:
– How could you bear such indignity? Why didn’t you use your sword, even knowing you might lose the fight, instead of displaying your cowardice in front of us all?
– If someone comes to you with a gift, and you do not accept it, who does the gift belong to? – asked the Samurai.
– He who tried to deliver it – replied one of his disciples.
– The same goes for envy, anger and insults – said the master. – When they are not accepted, they continue to belong to the one who carried them.
I’m confident that I did the right thing. It takes strength to walk away from an altercation and there is no honor beating up a drunk guy for being obnoxious. I finished grilling the dinner and really enjoyed it. I finished the leftovers when I was writing this. My neighbors are good people. It was better for everyone that I did not react.
This experience reinforced in my mind that avoidance in situations like this is best. Let me know your thoughts. How would you handle this situation?