Most of the time, we choose to fight when we don’t have to. Something makes us angry, our blood gets up, and we lash out. Or worse, we fight to be seen to fight, because we think it will make us look tough in front of the girl we want to impress. Or we think our friends will pick on us if we don’t show them how tough we are. Or, worst of all, we’re frustrated, we hate our lives, and we attack someone or something who can’t retaliate because, dangit, we have to hit something.
It takes very little courage to lash out without thinking, to let our body’s desire to hurt something override our judgment. If we stopped to think, we might realize we know better. We might choose a more difficult, better action than simply striking out.
And at some level, almost all of us stop to think when we have to. If we turn around to punch the guy we think just thumped our ear, and find ourselves looking up at the captain of the football team, we somehow find the will to back down. If we rush out of our cube, fists clenched, looking for the guy who just dumped packing peanuts on our head, and find the boss giggling, our fists somehow unclench. If we come spluttering to the surface of the pool, seeing red and looking for whoever pushed us in, and see our daughter standing there mortified, we somehow find it in ourselves not to strike. Our brains are incredible organs, capable of making important decisions in a split second–we don’t really lash out without thinking.
So how do we make it a habit to think before we strike? By making it a habit to think at other times. There are a hundred other ways to impress that girl–talking to her might be one. If our friends pick on us because they don’t think we’re tough enough–they’re probably not really our friends. There are plenty of ways to work out our frustration over our lives without hitting someone who can’t or won’t fight back.
The trouble is, thinking is harder than fighting. Self-restraint, self-control, is harder than letting ourselves lash out at the slightest excuse. I’ve heard it called “choosing the harder right over the easier wrong.” Making an enemy, creating a target to lash out at when you need to, is much easier than making a friend instead.
But when we choose the harder road, when we make a friend instead, we discover we don’t have to lash out quite as often. Not only do the threats and challenges come less frequently, but the real challenge–our own tendency to lash out–becomes blunted. We discover we don’t need to strike as often as we thought we did.
It’s our own choices, not those of everyone else, that determine how often we fight. Let’s have the courage to choose not to more often.