I was challenged to a fight years ago while playing basketball. A large man came up to me with a lot of aggression. Because of my pride, I didn’t want to be shown up, so I didn’t back down. I got hit pretty hard and I was left with plenty of knocks and bruises that could’ve been prevented. I gave flight to my fight, meaning that when I was faced with a potential conflict, I gave in to anger and lashed out. You may have the same tendency, but that is never your only option.
What I had to learn is that a person is not a coward when they back down from a fight, physical or otherwise. When you allow the fight to overcome you, you have already lost, regardless of whether or not you come out victorious. The person who can walk away is the winner, because they are in control of themselves. So most external conflicts really come down to an internal one – the battle with your emotions.
My dad was a prize fighter, and he sparred with the likes of Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. He was the one who taught me how to fight. But he also taught me how to get in touch with myself before I responded to a conflict. As a psychologist, I can tell you that to get to the root of this tendency to fight you have to get to know yourself, and understand your own weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends venture to meet ‘The Great and Powerful Oz’ himself. He is intimidating, loud and easily angered…until his true nature is revealed. Toto the dog pulls back the curtain to reveal a mere man pulling levers in a booth. The Oz they had feared isn’t what they expected. Similarly, within our own psyche, we have to pull back the curtain and reveal the man who is in hiding. The fear, the pain, the trauma that can lead us to warring against others must be examined and eradicated. We’ve all got emotions and experiences that cause us to react in a certain way. We are wired for survival, and those reflexes will not change until we intentionally deal with the problems. Consider talking to a trusted friend or therapist. The healing you will find is worth the uncomfortable nature of the conversation.
In the moment, there are some practical steps we can take when the desire to fight is overwhelming. First and foremost, you need to stop. Period. Remember that you have a choice. No matter what, how you respond is your decision. Next, think about the other person. When someone initiates a fight, they usually have a fence up, something to protect themselves. This means they feel vulnerable. Take into account their humanity before you choose to harm. Finally, the Bible is clear on this: vengeance belongs to God. You don’t have to be the one to administer justice.
At one point, God spoke to me and reminded me of King Jehoshaphat in the Bible. Jehoshaphat was set to go to war against the Moabites and the Ammonites and he was scared. He cried out to God in his desperation and God answered. God said, ‘I’m going to take you down into the valley but you won’t need to fight this battle. Stand firm and you’re going to see the salvation of the Lord.’
When you’re tempted to fight a battle, to give flight to your fight, whether that involves weapons or words, stop. Give yourself time to choose peace, and remember that the battle belongs to the Lord.