Fighting fairly and with principle bespeaks decency of character. Now, when I speak of fighting, I’m not meaning violence. Rather, I’m referring to a behavior that’s an integral part of life. We human beings do a lot of fighting. It pervades an incredible number of our affairs. It characterizes our politics, business dealings, and many of our relationships. It’s simply part of living. We fight to survive and prosper. So it’s never a question of whether we do or don’t fight. Rather, the bigger question is how we fight. And that’s largely what defines our character.
The Heart of Assertiveness
Fighting fairly, with principle, and with care not to injure, is the heart of assertiveness. Assertive behavior is non-violent, constructive fighting. I talk about this at length my book Character Disturbance. Here’s an excerpt:
Aggression in human beings is not synonymous with violence. Human aggression is the forceful energy we all expend to survive, prosper, and secure the things we want or need. We reflect a deep-seated awareness of this fact in our linguistics: We say things like, “if you really want something, you have to fight for it.” We encourage those who are sick or infirmed to do battle with their cancers, infections, or other diseases. As a society, we even launched a “war on poverty.”
Fighting is a huge part of life…and it’s fair to say that when we’re not making some kind of love, we’re waging some kind of war. But how we fight is another matter entirely. And there are big differences between aggression and assertion. Assertive behavior is fighting for a legitimate purpose. It’s fair and it’s principled. It’d done with deliberately imposed and observed limits. And the rights and boundaries of others are always respected. Violence is rejected, and the overall goal is constructive one (to make a situation better).
By contrast, aggressive behavior is fighting for a purely selfish interest and to simply gain advantage over another. No care is taken to impose limits or restraints, and the rights and boundaries of others are of little concern. The goal is inherently destructive because the intention is to weaken or incapacitate an opponent, and this can often involve violence.
(See also: Aggressive and Assertive Behavior)
How Disturbed Characters Fight
Disturbed characters are unscrupulous fighters. They fight readily. And they fight with little justification. They don’t stand on true principle. They fight because they want something. And, most of the time they feel entitled to what they want. Moreover, they’ll do whatever they think they must do to win. It’s all about having their way. And generally, it’s about having it right away.
Disturbed characters will claim victim status to justify their aggression. And they’ll offer a host of other justifications, too. But they don’t wage truly necessary fights.
Fighting fairly is anathema to many disturbed characters. They believe in a take no prisoners approach to life. For them, life is a series of contests. And they’re determined come out the victor in each. Now, that would be so bad if they were committed to fighting fairly took care not to needlessly injure. But they don’t care who they hurt. And they don’t have compunctions about the kinds of blows they throw. All that matters is that they win.
Covert Fighting: The Heart of Most Manipulation
As a seasoned practicing therapist, it didn’t take me long to realize how often people fight. But it did bother me how some folks preferred to fight. Some fighters were subtle, clever, underhanded, covert. They knew how to appear benign, even likable. But behind the facade lie a ruthless determination to win. And their arsenal of weapons consisted of tactics that made it hard to see they were merely fighting. When they were making their partner out the villain and casting themselves as a victim, for example, it wasn’t obvious they were fighting for advantage – to get their partner to back down or cave in. So I started studying this kind of behavior in depth. And that’s what led to In Sheep’s Clothing.
Fighting Fairly in Relationships
I’ve seen many relationships become toxic because of the way someone fights. Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship. But how we address those conflicts is a matter of character. You have to be able to stand up for yourself. And you have every right to advance a point of view. Moreover, if your goal is to know the truth or preserve an important principle, sometimes yous simply have to fight. But you never need to fight for the sake of fighting. And fighting purely to secure a position of power, dominance, and control inevitably destroys.
Fighting fairly and constructively can help relationship partners grow. It can help them grow themselves emotionally and in character. And it can help them develop their relationship. Disagreements are inevitable. So are contests of will. But if a relationship is to thrive, all fighting must be fair, disciplined, and focused on building instead of tearing down. I’ve rarely seen a relationship fail when partners are committed to fighting fairly. But I’ve seen many relationships destroyed by covert warfare and other forms of unscrupulous fighting. When it’s all about position, and not really about principle, destruction is inevitable.
Most traditional psychology paradigms focused on people’s fears and the ways people run from conflicts. Only recently do we have a psychology that addresses all the fighting we do and how and why we do it. So I’ll have more to say about this topic in some future posts.
Two new radio/TV programs are in the works. One will be relationship and character-centered, just like Character Matters. And I will be hosting that one solo. The other will be more spiritually-centered, and my wife of 37 years will co-host. We will be piloting that program as a podcast for Mental Health News Radio Network early next week.
I’ll also be producing some new videos sometime early next year. And you’ll be able to access them on my YouTube channel.