We’re such suckers for drama. Argument, gossip, debate and outright fisticuffs are just a few of the many ways we work conflict into our lives. Conflict is so embedded in our culture that it would be unimaginable for a conflict-free novel or movie to hold an audience’s attention. Our minds like taking the easy way out—the black and white—a winner and a loser and nothing but. We see it in a sport like baseball, where extra inning after inning gets played until zombie-like players finally churn out a proper winner and loser. Even in the arts we turn something as subjective as music into a battle of the bands.
We inevitably enter into arguments from time to time, during which we have the choice to either fight to win or accept the loss. What happens when we fight back? Physiologically, our body flicks the fight/flight switch, charging the sympathetic nervous system. The result is a kind of prolonged stress that can stick with us for as long as we’re engaged in rivalry (which can be our entire lives!). Emotionally, we feel wounded. We have a scar torn into our ego that our ego doesn’t like—a spark that kindles the ego’s urge to fight. And fight with ferocity we do. It could be as simple as someone stating their point of view that is contrary to our own and feeling the need to argue well beyond the point of healthy debate or just engaging in an argument simply to win.
We don’t need to win. Really, we don’t. Proving we’re right may make us look smarter, more capable or otherwise look better in the eyes of others, but that “may” is entirely dependent on the perception of others. By fighting to be right we may also appear pigheaded or worse, insecure and longing for admiration. It may also make us feel more confident of ourselves. But though the feeling of confidence is our own, that feeling has been generated through interaction with others rather than from within, which makes it a confidence that’s easily pierced the next time we’re faced with a rematch (or even the threat of a rematch).
The desire for admiration is a case for “losing the fight.” Logically, if our ego prompts us to fight to win as a way of bolstering itself, just accepting defeat can serve to minimize the ego’s grip on us. If we don’t always need to win, over time the ego becomes less important to us. Not in the sense that we’re a “loser,” but in the sense that the ego just doesn’t matter to us. When someone defeats us in an argument (or even makes fun of us) we can use our humility to see that they are actually doing us a favor… and we can thank them for it.
If we see through the ego for what it is, just a mask that we can choose to put on or take off on a whim, we inevitably lose our attachment to winning the fight and so we get in touch with our true self: a being who transcends winning and losing. A being who realizes the interconnection with everyone: friend or rival.
UB Hawthorn edits and writes for The Mindful Word journal of engaged living.
Originally published here