July 1, 2011: Fight, flight, or… try something entirely different? by Sister Janet Lander

One day, when I was a missionary in Brazil, I was shopping in downtown Goiânia for supplies for our mission household. As I walked to the bus stop, a man suddenly ran up and twisted the watch off my arm. I dropped my packages and grabbed him by his coat lapels, saying, “What are you doing? That is mine!”

I instantly realized I was being dangerously stupid, and let go saying, “Take it and leave me alone.” He fled, and I stood there shaking with fright, not so much at having been robbed, but by my own attack on the thief. I did not know I had it in me!

What do you do when you are feeling threatened or fearful?

Some run or hide physically. They are often labeled cowards or weaklings. Others run or hide internally, through avoidance of difficult situations or hard conversations. And still others just try not to notice, by deciding not to “get involved.” Then there are those who take the offensive, countering violence with violence, thinking justice comes through fighting back or striking first. They may try to wield control through intimidation in word or action.

Our basic, instinctual responses to perceived danger are “fight” or “flight.” These come from the most primitive segment of our brain, and we share these responses with the rest of the animal kingdom. They are survival tactics, and while there may be a rare situation where such a response is needed to preserve life, most of the time there is another option.

We have a more developed brain than other animals. With human consciousness we enjoy capacities for memory and hope, for compassion and moral decision-making. We are capable not only of intelligent reasoning and logic, but also of choosing love over logic! We are created to be connected to other people.

So in times of conflict, we have the third option of moving toward our opponent to find common ground. For some this is easier than for others. It seems that people have a natural inclination to move toward, move against or move away when faced with conflict. But we can always choose to stretch beyond our comfort zones.

We have all heard remarkable stories of people who befriended “the enemy.” In many cases, the “enemy” was disarmed — literally or figuratively — by the surprising action or words of the person who neither ran away nor fought back. An option other than violence opened up. In some cases the story goes on to become a story of reconciliation, while in some the good news was merely that violence was averted.

Barbara Deming, in her book “Revolution and Equilibrium,” explains this third option as the “two hands of nonviolence.” This stance, not necessarily literally, is one of holding one hand up to say, “Stop your violence, injustice, disrespect. I refuse to cooperate with it and will even stand in its way.” However, the other hand is outstretched to say, “I won’t cast you out of the human race. I believe you can make a better choice. I’ll support you when you are ready.” Perhaps the next time any of us find ourselves in a conflict we can choose to exercise our higher consciousness.

ONE LAST NOTE: A great chance to find common ground with our neighbors is coming up in Concordia Tuesday, Aug. 2! That’s when neighborhoods around the city will hold “block parties” of sorts as part of National Night Out. Activities are planned in nine neighborhoods around Concordia, but we would love to have more neighborhoods take part. To find out more, contact Sister Jean Rosemarynoski at 243-2113, ext. 1225, or sisterjean@csjkansas.org.


— Sister Janet Lander is on the staff of Manna House of Prayer and is a member of the Concordia Year of Peace Committee.

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