This cat would be safer if it saw a mouse staring back at it from the mirror
There’s an old saying in Ireland: “Many a man’s tongue broke his nose.”
A typically dry witticism, and also quite true; saying the wrong thing can get you seriously hurt.
Many people have stampeded towards an avoidable violent confrontation for no better reasons than: to have the last word; to let another person know how annoyed they are; to belittle another person or simply to posture and present a “front” based on bravado.
But this post is not just about keeping your mouth shut. It’s about the larger problem; it’s not just what one says that can get one hurt, it’s everything one does. Excessive eye contact can make other people aggressive; Rushing to catch your train and barging into another pedestrian could result in anything from a few harsh words up to a brawl; Getting drunk because you’ve “always been fine before” (stupid) leaves you vulnerable to attack; Returning to (or remaining in) a bar or club you’ve had a prior altercation at could get you killed (just ask one of the best fighters ever to come out of the United Kingdom, Lee Murray), and implying that an armed mugger doesn’t have the guts to actually hurt you might encourage them to shoot you dead (Just look at the case of the late Nicole Dufresne).
And the motive force behind all such bad decision-making is ego. Ego tells us to “stand up for ourselves” even when we have literally no strategic advantage, and total capitulation is the lifesaving choice to make. Ego tells us to “show people we aren’t afraid of them” when displays of defiance will simply bring down swift corrective retribution from an opponent who grossly outmatches us. Our ego tells us that it’s okay to get blind stinking drunk because “even while drunk, I’m still too strong, fast and/or sneaky for anyone to get the drop on me”. No need to comment on the ridiculousness of that.
Our ego tells us we’ll live forever… and that we’re always in the right.
Our ego’s wrong… We won’t, and we’re not.
The saddest truth of violent altercations is that they’re almost always avoidable with the simple application of a little common sense. But ego is the universal antidote to common sense. Ego feeds off anger and righteous indignation. Ego is strongest when we are blaming someone or something for whatever we don’t like about our lives.
I have in my time had jobs that demanded my presence in the city. To get there, I have taken public transport. I have seen many minor scuffles on public transport, and in fact many of the scuffles I have witnessed have been between middle aged, unfit office workers in suits of various degrees of quality. My theory is that their lives are so pointlessly stressful and their daily grind so hateful to them, that they sometimes feel entitled to be objectionable, as if being a prick will somehow balance the karmic scales of the universe that have been tipped by their suffering.
Sometimes, for instance, they feel entitled to shove their newspaper into another salaryman’s face, or otherwise take up their personal space.
They’re wrong to think that.
Sometimes the office workers feel entitled to push and shove their fellow travellers to get on or off the train.
They’re wrong about that.
On the other hand, sometimes they feel entitled to block an exit when they could move somewhere more convenient for everyone, because why should they move? They’re entitled to stand wherever they want, right?
And of course, on a breathless sardine-can of a subway train, people’s tempers flare easily, so acts like those described above often result in verbal altercations, and occasionally physical altercations a la Bridget Jones.
The difference is that in the real world, even a very badly conducted fight can be a fatal affair.
And I use unfit, untrained office workers as examples, because I wish to point out that even the type of people who arguably run society (though of course they should not be allowed to run society) can’t think clearly enough in the heat of the moment to avoid risking life and limb over pointless trivia.
Let’s take another mundane and pedestrian example: walking along a public thoroughfare.
How many altercations have started when two (usually young and male, though not always) individuals have collided into one another while walking down the street, not because they lacked awareness, but because they simply refused to be the one to step to one side.
One can almost hear the dialogue going on in their heads as the inevitable bumpage approaches: “Why should I move. I have as much right to walk along this arbitrary straight line as he does”. And the other is saying to himself: “Look at this utter bastard, walking along the middle of the pavement as if he owns it. Well, I’m not going to be scared into submission by this swaggering fool. I shall keep my current course!”
Or something to this effect.
And so they both march towards a catastrophic clash of elbows, both secure in the absolute knowledge that they each hold the moral high ground.
Any fight that results from such child-like idiocy is not only avoidable, it is the punchline to a very bad joke that began when the participants first let their ego do their thinking for them.
One of the reasons why people don’t give up the kind of every day egotism that results in arguments (some of which turn violent) is that most people haven’t had any real punishment or negative stimulus in response to past transgressions.
e.g: Most of the idiots who deliberately inconvenience others on public transport haven’t gotten into a fight because of their misbehaviour. (And even if they have gotten into a fight, they may have won that fight… .)
But people who are interested in resorting to violence aren’t the soluble part of the problem really, and this meandering article isn’t directed at them. This article is directed at people who are putting themselves in danger by challenging others on a daily basis, without a realistic concern for where such challenges might lead them.
What should you do?
In short, one should get rid of one’s ego, and mercilessly stop oneself from allowing either stress, righteous indignation or fear of seeming weak to control one’s actions. Only cold, hard reason should dictate how you act in public places, and in one’s workplace. If a superior force is threatening you with physical harm, it’s not appearing weak that will leave you in the worst position possible… it’s calling their bluff.
Why? Because it’s better to appear weak and surprise a committed opponent than to pretend to be stronger than you are and trigger an uncommitted opponent’s attack… An attack that might not have come at all if you hadn’t postured up to them and told them something along the lines of “You ain’t got the guts”.
On an every day basis:
– If someone gets in your way, step around them.
– If someone jumps a queue you’re in, let them stay in front of you.
– If someone’s desperate to get on the train/bus/subway train in front of you, let them get on in front of you.
– If someone walks towards you as if they’ll push straight through you, step out of their way. What difference does any of this make to your life as a whole? Let it all go.
If you balk at these suggestions, ask yourself why: Is it because you’re concerned with self defence? Or is it because you’re concerned with feeding your ego?
Why do we learn to fight? Is it so that we can avoid harm? Or is it- as so many martial artists subconsciously believe, but consciously deny even to themselves- so that we can force others to do what we want, when we want?