I doubt that many people say (or write) things with the intent to cause pain. If one jumps quickly to that conclusion, some people will keep their distance. Miscommunication, lack of information, mistaken assumptions, stupidity, thoughtlessness and carelessness (in approximate order of moral "badness") are all much more common than malice1
. Accusing someone of malice is hurtful in and of itself, unless the person actually did intend malice and is proud of it, and I don't think I know many people like that.
My instinctive reaction is, maybe not surprisingly, to keep my distance when the fighting starts. Certainly, there's not much to be "won" by getting involved in a battle between other parties: one can be ignored, claimed as an ally by one side or the other, or attacked by both. The tragedy is that most of the fighting I see stems from well-intentioned but misguided or misunderstood words and actions, not ill will, and I want to fix it, to deconstruct the origins of the conflict and rebuild relationships, even though they aren't mine to rebuild. I don't know what the right response is, in the general case. Ignore it? Choose a side? Jump in the middle and yell "whoa!"? Talk to the people on each side about it? I've tried all of these in different situations, and surprisingly, the one that's worked best so far is to jump in the middle and yell "whoa!"
Okay, it was literally "HEY!"
, but anyhow, it immediately and completely ended a full-on fight at my high school. Having more experience and knowledge of martial arts now than I did then (I had dabbled in kung fu, jiujitsu and wrestling), I understand a bit more of what I instinctively did then: it's referred to as kiaijutsu
. The fight was occuring in a hall just outside a classroom I happened to be in, and the customary crowd of students and ineffectual teachers had gathered. Without really thinking about it, I stood up, hurled the door open, and let out (best espression for it, it felt like it happened
) an incredibly loud "HEY!"
In the silence that followed, the fighting pair left, heading down the hall in opposite directions and trying to melt into the crowd. The teachers, recovering their senses, turned to me and asked what I thought I was doing, and I just shrugged and said, "ending the fight." Nothing more was said of the affair by anyone.
Should I study to cultivate the ability to do this by choice? Christ said, "blessed are the peacemakers," but he (or his transcriber) was a little vague on technique. What is the equivalent in battles of words, or is it any different? In the immediate situation, the essential aim seems to be to wake people out of their instinctive retaliatory mode, but it's not without risk: if they really are bent on hurting each other, interposing oneself is asking for trouble. The two guys whose fight I interrupted never thanked me, nor did anyone else. In many ways, it looks like the hardest road: does that make it the best?
As it is, I take each case as it comes, and try to find in my heart the right path. It's probably not the most reliable guide, though: fear, weariness, anger, hurt, and so forth can slant my judgement towards avoidant or destructive actions, masking the small, quiet signs God gives. I'm looking for a set of guidelines, something that can at least help me think twice about questionable choices.
(This isn't about any of you; it's about me, reacting to a lot of things and looking at my own reactions and choices. That's why it's in my blog, not yours.)
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1: Not that the pain isn't real. Something misunderstood can hurt just as much as a deliberate attack. Acknowledging and dealing with having been hurt is hard for anyone. Likewise, acknowledging and dealing with having hurt someone is hard for any moral person. It's easiest for both, of course, if they can be reconciled and help each other.