April 1, 2011
I have been reading a lot of Jewish history lately. This is not for the faint of heart; it is filled with much tragedy. Either our enemies are at our throats or we are fighting among ourselves.
Too often I find a situation where if one party were willing to make a small concession, or swallow their pride for a moment; tragedy could have been avoided. Too often it has been a matter of; it is too late to back off, this will make me look weak, I have no choice but to finish off my adversary.
Not so, it is never too late, and there is always a way to back off with dignity. It is our ego that gets in the way. We are so terribly worried about how we appear to others. What others think of us matters more than what we know to be good, right and wise.
This is true in international affairs, in domestic matters and in personal situations.
There is a time to back off and walk away and there is a time to fight and make a stand. The age old question is when to fight and when to back off. This is dealt with rather well in the "Karate Kid" films. When Daniel San asks his teacher, Mr. Miyagi, how to know when to fight or not fight, Mr. Miyagi answers wisely, "When have full respect for self, full respect for other; that answer comes."
In other words, it is a delicate matter that requires a certain degree of maturity and wisdom. If Hamas is bombing southern Israel or Hizbullah is bombing northern Israel, an immediate response is necessary. History has taught us that such enemies will never stop unless they are put out of commission. We have learned that our enemies only understand the language of force.
This however, is only true for this time, this situation, and this enemy. There is no one rule that is always good. Discretion and wisdom are needed to judge each situation.
If you are in a bar and someone challenges you to a fight, I think the best solution is to walk away, not run away; just walk away. If someone is calling you names, insulting you; they are looking for a response, they want a reaction; they want to know they "got to you" and upset you. The wise choice I think is to simply walk away. By walking away you have taken their victory from them. You have won the fight without fighting as Bruce Lee did in one famous scene in Enter the Dragon.
So often the "walk away" approach can end a situation before it gets violent, before it gets to a situation where everyone will regret their actions. Someone insulted you. Did they really? I believe it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, "No one can humiliate you except yourself". In other words, someone else's words cannot insult you. As the Arabs say, their words are "Haki fadi", emptiness, just sounds, they come and go. They only become important if we allow them to become important. It is just wind, let it pass. Rabbi Kahane of blessed memory used to call such insults, "dandruff, brush it off", as he would pretend to brush off dandruff from his suit jacket.
Chose your fights, know when you must fight and when you should "walk away". How many kings entered into hopeless wars and lost their country's freedom because their ego pushed them into a war they could not win. How many people destroyed their lives with legal battles that lasted twenty years when they could have make a concession, lost some money, and moved on, how many fights, injuries, and deaths could have been prevented if people had the wisdom and maturity to just walk away?
We shall never know the true cost of such matters.
Like Mr. Miyagi said, if you truly have self respect you will not allow yourself to be drawn into conflicts which are not of your choosing. If you have self-respect you will not let your weak ego force you into an unwise fight. You will chose fights from a position of strength; your choice, your timing. As my kung fu teacher said, "I will not fight you from far away, this is not my fight. You are a tall American, I am a short Chinese man. I will fight you inside, that is my fight.
Chose your fights wisely, and know when it is better to just walk away.