Simplicity Challenge #10: Fight back, or let it go?

Lately, I’ve been lending a sympathetic ear to a friend who’s been going through a hard time — basically, she’s been under attack.


Long story short, it’s about money from a failed venture. And I don’t want to reveal any of the personal details here, but suffice it to say that it sounds like the financial disagreement itself is pretty straightforward, and could be resolved logically. However, emotions have entered into the situation…


It’s difficult to end a conflict where one person feels that they are owed more money than ever existed in the first place, in their joint venture. And, it’s hard to stop thinking about (and fighting against) a situation where someone is willing to lie, manipulate, and attack in order to get what they want.


And to some extent, I understand why my friend's partner has taken these actions. After all, it’s always easier to point the finger at someone else and play the blame game than it is to accept loss, whether that’s an emotional or a financial loss. And so, my friend has become the target of this blame, and the attacks that go with it.


As I listen, I try to maintain a sense of detachment, kind of like I would in my professional life. After all, it’s really not something that I'm involved in, and it certainly doesn’t affect me directly. However, I can’t help but empathize with my friend, and wonder what I would do in her situation.


It made me think about my own defensiveness whenever I’m facing a situation where someone might want to say something negative about me. And, I wonder if I could handle things so graciously as my friend, were I ever to be put into the same situation.


Luckily for me, in our discussions, we’ve come to a set of realizations that I hope to carry forward into any conflict in life, whether the small, day-to-day annoyances, or a full-fledged attack like this one. Here’s what we’ve been discussing…


What power does this person wield over someone’s life?


In situations like this, it’s easy to dread the worst-case scenario…


To think that the attacker might get their way, take everything, destroy their adversary’s reputation, and continue to make life miserable for years to come. And all by “playing dirty” and telling lies.


That’s a frustrating, disheartening, and scary scenario to imagine! And, I’m sure there are some cases in which the worst-case scenario does come true.


However, in many situations, a lot of the manipulative tactics often don’t amount to anything actionable… and, more and more in this case, we’re realizing this is true.


Really, it’s the fear that’s the worst part. So, she’s pushing back when needed, but trying to force it out of her head otherwise. And I admire that strength, practicality, and serenity.


Is it worth fighting back? And to what extent?


I like to choose my battles. However, it’s easy to say I’ll let something go… and much more difficult to actually let it go!


As I mentioned, I believe it’s OK (and often crucial) to push back when needed. “Letting go” certainly doesn’t mean that it’s necessary to sit back and take abuse!


But, there is an art in choosing what to push back against, and what to ignore.


In general, my friend has elected to push back against any false allegations that may have a legal ramification…


But, when it comes to accusations and insults of a personal nature… the old “sticks and stones” saying is relevant even to adults!


Sometimes, there’s no changing a person’s opinion about us… and the energy spent trying to do so would be like beating our head against a wall. So, often it’s best just to move on and let them say what they want to.


Also, sometimes ignoring the comments can be the best way to encourage a drama-loving adversary to move on. It's a way to avoid "feeding the fire."


What is the burden on mental and emotional health?


Here’s the really insidious, really difficult part…


I talk a lot about letting things go… but, while I may be able to restrain myself from taking action (from returning insults and accusations, for example), it can be much more difficult for my mind to let go of the hurt I would feel at being the target of malicious actions.


Sometimes thoughts and feelings — like outrage over the unfairness of an outcome, or a sense of betrayal — can slip into my subconscious and set up camp there for a while before I even realize how much they’re affecting me.


It can be very hard, but I think the best thing here is to just focus on what we can control, and not what we can’t control — and someone else’s actions (assuming they’re not blatantly breaking the law) certainly fall into the category of things I can’t control.


And really, the negative thoughts in my own mind just give more power to the person’s actions, rather than helping me feel better.


But, how do you stop the train of thoughts?


I read a great quote from my meditation group the other day:


“Non-attention is the greatest weapon to fight thoughts, because thoughts without our attention have no power.” -- Chariji


So, the best way to minimize the harmful emotional effects of worry, fear, anger, and other reactions, is by not giving them the power of your attention.


Of course, it’s very difficult to NOT think about something. So, I’ve found the best way is to focus my attention on something else. Something that will fully occupy my mind, and not let it wander toward negative thoughts.


Meditation is a great way to get better at focusing your mind on what you want it to focus on, and avoid letting it wander to thoughts you don’t want — it takes practice, but can be a big help over time. In the short run, I also find that activities like reading, exercising, or even just watching a good movie can really help, too.


I admire my friend for taking all of these measures, and letting go of some things that have been truly hurtful. And, I hope to live my own life in the same way, should I ever have to deal with a similar situation.


Because limiting our reactions is simplicity at its best, and can often help to minimize the reach of an otherwise harmful situation.