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Choose Your Battles Wisely

Posted in Conflict management,Featured,Managing our emotions by Rashmi Datt on November 24th, 2011

“How do you react if your bottom were pinched?”

Yesterday, our 14-year old daughter, worry writ large on her face, hesitantly raised this question at dinner time.

Welcome to the grown-up world, I thought inwardly. So what had happened was that in her school bus (unusually crowded as they were heading from school to a sports event some distance away), a boy from the 9th grade had pinched the backside of her best friend. (Let’s call her Sheelu).

Sheelu was surprised to say the least. Boys from your class were crazy, but this was not done. Her normally good natured expression turning indignant, she retorted, ‘If you do that again, I’ll slap you.’

But the SQ (Stupidity Quotient) of teenagers knows no bounds, and the grinning stripling, heady with success, repeated his act a few minutes later.

Out of sheer astonishment, Sheelu simply repeated her earlier (now hollow sounding) threat.

Our daughter’s assessment was that the silly fool must have done it as a dare from his friends, but that did not make the annoyance or embarrassment go away. She asked:
If this were to happen to me, I would like to know how to deal with it. Do I slap him? Or am I putting myself in danger of any kind, for what if he retaliates? What if he has a country-made gun up his sleeve?

I thought this question addresses a broader issue we face quite often in everyday life. Raise our voice and register our protest or swallow the anger and keep quiet? Such as with

• the wretched driver who almost bangs into your car because he is driving while talking on his cell phone, or
• the colleague who has been saying nasty things behind your back, or
• the neighbor who insists on parking his car at your spot, or
• the landlord who is overcharging you on the electricity bill.

There is no doubt that all these situations cause anger. Instinctively, the anger (which actually stems from anxiety because we feel threatened with the perception of being attacked) can elicit a reaction of fight or flight from us. The challenge lies in responding instead of REACTING in a thoughtless and knee-jerk manner. RESPONDING means to gauge the situation carefully, determine what is the appropriate answer which is in line with our long-term goals, and then take logical action.

Will picking up the fight with the motorist help me rectify the damage to the car? If I manage to get a compensation from him as damages will it be worth the battle on the road? The answer is a no. Are there collateral damages –of the fight turning nasty? Yes, as many road rage instances are known to end disastrously.

If the landlord is not willing to listen to your plea that the electricity bill is too high, in your anger you may consider shifting out. But soon you will realize that that cost will probably be higher than the extra amount you pay, so fighting with him is of no use at all. The wiser option is to accept the situation – not by sulking, but with grace.

So before we embark on a warpath, some crucial questions to ask ourselves are:

• What is the importance of the issue at hand? How much of the inconvenience is tangible, and how much is it a matter of ‘principle’ or self-importance being hurt, or personal settling of scores? Is the intensity of annoyance appropriate to the situation?
• To what extent will we be able to influence or change the outcome? In the power equation, where do we stand?
• If we win, will it be worth the wounds? If we lose, will the losses be worth the satisfaction of having fought?
• Finally, the most important question is: Are our core values or long-term goals being compromised or violated?

So to answer our daughter’s question: If this were to happen with a boy from the school who is a familiar face, or in a safe place like a school bus or the school, by all means go ahead and execute a HARD slap.
However if you are in a public place (a railway station, near a cinema hall), and more importantly at a time where there are not many people around, there is clearly a risk associated with retaliation, the wiser option is to IGNORE the matter and move away.

‘But that means to accept that men have the right to humiliate us. That women are but toys’, replied our daughter wrathfully.
In a borderline situation like this, where physical harm has not been done, we need to evaluate the possible repercussion of retaliation (possible endangering of life) vs. the damage of not responding (the swallowing of an insult and erosion of self-esteem). We must also remember the humiliation we feel is in our mind.

You can select to give it as little importance as the bite of a mosquito. In that case, you keep the freedom of choosing your response, which is to focus on the larger goal, to reach home safely, and get on with life. Making little of the matter will probably bug the hell out of the pincher.

So to conclude: slap the other fellow if he is equal to you in power and influence, but insult the other fellow by ignoring him if the collateral damage of attempting the slap is too high. But the latter requires the greater wisdom and courage than the former option.
What would you have done? How would you have advised your daughter, sister, wife or girl friend?

2 Responses to 'Choose Your Battles Wisely'

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  1. Ritika said, on November 25th, 2011 at 7:05 pm


    Very well summerized, explained and adviced…off late i too feel getting into retalition is not worth it…having said that The situation is what dictates your response..i too would want my daughter to be able to understand the situation consequenses and then respond without losing her peace of mind or getting into a undesirable situation…

  2. Rashmi Datt said, on November 25th, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    True Ritika. And indeed we need to hit back at times, as not to do that will have the other person take advantage of us. It is there that we need to exercise a fine judgment-when to keep quiet and when to speak out.

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