Pick your battles wisely. Like most things, it’s far easier said than done. In this case, while people are quick to throw that phrase in the direction of someone who looks to be looking for a squabble, no one ever gives specific directions for how he/she should fight, let alone how to evaluate if the battle would be worth the effort.
That puts the fight-prone at a disadvantage. Is this, or is this NOT a battle I should choose? And how would I go about finding out? How do you assess if a potential battle is battleworthy? When fear and polarized thinking forces you into forced choice between fight or flight, it seems little gray area exists, most notably between the ears.
An immediate self-intervention that requires little introspection is to alternate between the two choices. This time, I choose “fight,” while next time I choose “flight.” You could do far worse, as this operating system, albeit primitive, reduces fighting by 50%. It’s a good starting point for folks who view everything as a battle. Alternating is especially effective in situations where you regularly fight with someone over things like who pays the restaurant tab.
Another idea: my grandmother was fond of stepping between me and brewing conflict and asking, “Will it matter a year from now?” To which I would always have to answer, “no.” She would then ask if it would matter a month from now. Also, “no.” That would be followed by her asking if it would matter a week from now? Again, “no,” which led to, “no,” it really wouldn’t matter even a day from now. Having thoroughly painting me into a corner, Grandma would summarize, “Then it probably shouldn’t matter so much right now, eh? So why not let it go?” I hated being human putty in her hands, but knew she was right.
Speaking of right, how about asking the following nagging self-question: “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?” That’s a real deal breaker for the reasonable-at-heart. But not so for overly sanctimonious types or those who prize the so-called “truth” more highly than relationship.
Rotary International has a four-way test its members are encouraged to use. They are taught to ask these questions before opening their mouths to speak: 1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build goodwill and better friendships? 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned? If not, the speaker should remain silent. Certainly, that strategy would eliminate the start of many a fight.
At work, we ask an abbreviated version of the four-way test, consisting of two questions. When someone is about to say or do something we suspect would make things worse, we inquire, “Would that be helpful or hurtful?” Most people will know right away which direction they had been headed. And if the journey was toward Painsville, they will stop.
Christians often consider WWJD (what would Jesus do?) in evaluating a course of action. While that helps me discover and take the high-road route in ethical matters, I draw a blank when I find myself in messes of my own making so decidedly un-Jesuslike He wouldn’t have been within 100 miles of them.
Being a member of the media, I frequently evaluate potential battles on the basis of how they would look in print or sound if broadcast. If my actions wouldn’t look justified or sound legitimate in the media, it’s a strong indication I should drop the issue that has me hot and bothered.
Unfortunately, there remain times when I am willing to risk shooting myself in the foot and my reputation in the butt if it means I can have the pleasure of bringing down someone else along with me. Admittedly, kamikaze clashing is just plain crazy.
The less impulsive and more analytic often prefer to perform a cost-benefit analysis on battles that loom on the horizon. What would be the cost of winning? The price of admission isn’t always worth the prize. Therefore, I find it most helpful to know and live my values regularly so I don’t feel the need to aggressively prove myself. That’s the most important victory.