If someone is obnoxious and is threatening you, and you are tough you wouldn’t do that soft, weak thing of just talking to them or “de-escalating the fight” would you? Actually the ability to verbally defuse an attack requires real toughness…inner toughness and self-discipline.
Sun Tzu was the military general and strategist who authored “The Art of War” 2,500 years ago. It has been a revered guide to generals throughout history. Sun Tzu said that the ultimate master of war wins the war without delivering a single blow or strike. He attacks the strategy of the enemy. He converts their troops to his side.
Ben Hoffman was a United Nations negotiator. He went into the deepest recesses of Africa to meet with the continent’s most vicious warlord, Joseph Kony. Kony had ruthlessly killed many thousands of innocents and for entertainment would have someone who had questioned him in some way, beheaded by his elite guards while Kony and his girlfriend ate dinner on the verandah. Ben went in alone, unarmed, and with no communications to the outer world. For diplomatic efforts like that you have to be very tough. One of the books that Ben wrote is called “The Peace Guerilla Handbook”. In it he wrote that “The war guerilla [is] obsessed with the goal of victory through force.” He continues that “Collaboration is the Peace Guerilla’s key philosophy and operating principle.” And, “Violence is the use of power to impose an outcome on someone. The central objective of the Peace Guerilla is the transformation of power.”
My first karate sensei taught us that “To master martial arts one must become a master of soft and hard.”
The ability to peacefully command and control someone who is violently threatening you and is crazed requires training to harden your core, to be tough internally. Then outwardly you can appear to be calm or neutral, like a lighthouse at the edge of a raging ocean where the violent waves beat upon the stone or concrete foundation and are harmlessly dispersed.
Possessing much greater inner strength than your opponent gives you the ability calm them down using skills you have learned and practiced. You recognize that your intention is to help them despite their out-of-control state. It is to prevent real harm in the situation. This gives you a sort of inner light which the other may sense.
So if someone was looking at the interaction, watching this from the planet Mars, they might just see you acting in a steady, gentle way to guide this screaming person down to a recovered state. They might miss the inner core that is as tough as rock.
So don’t think that if you pursue the path of peace, diplomacy, de-escalation and defusing that you are not tough. It’s the opposite. You are the ideal of Sun Tzu’s vision of a warrior. You are Dr. Hoffman’s peace guerilla.
This said, there is one other shocking truth. Wars and fights are matters of contingency and uncertainty. You’ve seen the Great Seal of the United States. That is an olive branch representing peace in the one set of talons and a sheaf of arrows representing war in the other.
For most people the learning and practice of techniques of verbally defusing violent confrontations, and in lesser intensity matters learning conflict resolution in the workplace gives them the best chances of escaping unharmed physically and psychologically. But this is not to say there is not value in training be better martially. Learn martial arts if you have the time. If you happen to be a runner or sprinter, it’s okay to say to a would-be-attacker “See you later” and sprint away. If your occupation is as a law enforcement officer you will practice the other steps on the “ladder of force options”. But the olive branches and the arrows do not weaken one another. They work together. They reinforce.
When it is the time to de-escalate and defuse you do that with 100% commitment, not with 99.99%. It is that total, almost ferocious commitment (though outwardly appearing simply balanced and focused) to the de-escalation that surprises your antagonist. They are not used to encountering that. The more skills you learn to broaden your ability the more inescapable your victory becomes. You expand the dimensions of the de-escalation space. Of course your victory is not over the other person, it is with them. As Dr. Ben Hoffman said, “Power with, not power over people.”