‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’ ‘Stuck between a rock and a hard place.’ ‘Whatever I do, it’s wrong. I just can’t win.’
Unfortunately, this describes the underlying sentiment of many unresolved conflicts, and is often the reason why they are not addressed. When faced with the prospect of failure no matter what we do, most of us choose to do … nothing.
In the sparring portion of one of my intermediate rank tests, I was paired up with an opponent who was male, a head taller than me, and outweighed me by at least 80 pounds. I had few choices, all of them equally unattractive. Negotiating with the sensei to be assigned a different opponent is not something you do, especially not on a test. Refusing to spar would have meant certain humiliation and possibly failing the test. Squaring off with Big Dude would have meant certain humiliation and possibly failing the test. Ugh.
I recalled what my instructors taught me: ‘Always leave knowing you did, rather than wishing you had.’ So, I took a deep breath, got on guard and faced both my inner demons and Big Dude. Needless to say, I got clobbered. Thanks to protective gear, most of the bruises were on my ego. I did manage to land a strike straight into Big Dude’s floating rib, at which point the sensei mercifully decided that we were done. I can still hear the concluding words of wisdom from the master: “It’s okay to get beaten up sometimes.” I did advance to the next rank that day, but that’s not the point here.
That short sparring match was a learning experience on so many levels, one that I remember each time I encounter an unresolved conflict in my own life or in my work as a peacemaker. It’s challenging to face certain situations head-on, and risk being beaten up (whether literally or figuratively speaking), humiliated and left potentially in the same place as before.
I’m not talking about small disagreements where you just take a deep breath, smile and move on. I’m also not talking about serious disagreements where doing nothing is really not an option. I’m talking about the in-between conflicts that are too big for “don’t sweat the small stuff” and at the same time don’t quite rise to the “I can’t possibly just let this one slide” level. Those in-between conflicts where doing nothing won’t give you a heart attack, clean out your bank account or require daily therapy sessions. Those in-between conflicts where you ask yourself: Is it really worth the fight?
It’s so tempting to do nothing, especially when you’re afraid of getting beaten up. But here’s the fallacy: You’re already getting beaten up. Not action movie style with broken bones, flying objects, and a bloody nose. By letting the conflict fester, you are getting beaten up in a much more subtle, and often much more destructive way. Your resentment will grow – of the other person for putting you in this situation, and of yourself for not standing up and facing the music. And you’ll always wonder: Maybe I should have said something.
Had I not faced Big Dude back then, I would have always wondered whether I might have succeeded if I had only tried. The blow to my self-esteem, and the constant self-doubt, would have rippled through my life outside of martial arts training. Sure, I got a good beating. But I also got something else: I learned what works and what doesn’t work when faced with a bigger opponent. I learned that I can face my fears, get clobbered and come out a stronger person. I learned that it really is okay to get beaten up sometimes.
Now, every time I’m faced with a choice of doing nothing or actively dealing with a situation, and both options seem equally unattractive, I remember the time I chose to face Big Dude. I left that day with my head held high, and having learned something. Most importantly: I left knowing I did, rather than wishing I had.