Friday, August 11, 2017

Keeping Calm in the Face of Confrontation

How do we respond when someone confronts us? Do we bristle? Do we take a defensive position? Do we go on the offensive? Or, do we remain calm and try to plan a thoughtful response?

Consider the following scenarios. Someone says,
“Your dog defecated in my yard!” 
“You should go back where you came from.”
 “Your belief is not biblical.”

Because the words might be a surprise, the hearer has little time to react. This is common in many confrontations. In Charlottesville, confrontation looms. An alt-right hate group is planning a rally for August 12. Other groups are staging counter-protests. Keeping calm in the face of confrontation is timely. I disagree with the alt-right beliefs and modus operandi. I believe in equality and advocate for justice for all people. How should I respond if confronted?

Years ago, I taught scuba diving. One of my favorite classes to teach was rescue diving. In rescue diving, one lesson is the “self-rescue.” There are many things that can go wrong underwater and there is a very simple technique for responding. The same technique applies whether fishing line snags one’s dive equipment or a white supremacist confronts you.

Here are the steps:
  1. Stop
  2. Breathe
  3. Think
  4. Act

First, stop what you are doing. If you are swimming near a shipwreck and feel a sudden tug, struggling will make it worse. Stop. If you are walking and a white supremacist says something, ignoring him might embolden him. Stop. By stopping, there is a possibility of shifting the confrontation.

Second, breathe. Our bodies need air to survive. The same principle applies 30m underwater as on the surface. By breathing, we give our bodies a chance to catch up with the circumstances. Breathing provides oxygen to our brains. Our brains need oxygen to function. When they function, they can process information and react.

Third, think. This might seem obvious. But, too often, when a diver feels a tug, before thinking, she struggles to get free. The most common jetsam impeding a diver is monofilament line. It is virtually invisible underwater. Since shipwrecks attract fish, they draw people who like to fish and those who like to dive. Fishing people lose fishing line. It is part of the sport. The lost line ends up wrapped in the rigging of wrecks. Struggling against the line will only make it worse.

Forth, act. If a diver stops, breathes, and then thinks, she might realize the tug was monofilament line. She can carefully feel for the line. Once found, she can assess how much line entrapped her, and she can cut it with her dive knife. Action should follow stopping, breathing, and thinking.

Confrontations can escalate. Following these four steps can help avoid escalation. Deftly handling a confrontation can de-escalate and, possibly, create space for a constructive conversation. With God, all things are possible, even changing a confrontation with a white supremacist into a conversation with a fellow human being.

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