Skillfully Dealing with Attack

People sometimes say to me: “I love your peaceful, non-violent philosophy, but what do you do when the lawyer or person on the other side is an aggressive sort and attacks you or your client with mean-spirited personal or legal tactics? How are you and your client protected?” This of course is a legitimate question and one with a very clear answer: I try very hard not to respond with the same kind of behavior. (And it is always really hard to do, and I don’t always succeed.)

The fundamental principle here is: attack begets attack. This is why I invariably advise my clients not to do it—because it will cause them to get attacked back. I know my clients will be uncomfortable with being attacked and it will not be useful in finding a positive outcome for all involved. (Attack includes a wide variety of behaviors usually focused on written or verbal criticism of one’s actions or personhood. The attacker sometimes means to attack and sometimes does not.)

Above all, I want to break the unproductive cycle of attack resulting in further aggression. This cycle is painful, counterproductive and can be unending. It is a common fallacy to think that attacking back when someone attacks us will somehow bring protection. Sometimes this is seen as “standing up for ourselves.” It does not, however, necessarily provide the protection we seek in high conflict situations. Rather, it often it merely increases the likelihood of more attack and fuels a non-productive spiral of aggressive behavior.

Not responding to attack with the same kind of behavior does not in any way mean that we acquiesce to being harmed or abused, nor does it mean we fail to take appropriate actions to defend and protect ourselves from that attack. It just means that there are better ways to do it than responding in kind. There are abundant wise and skillful, alternative methods of doing this, not the least of which is the realization that the perceived attack is often without authentic substance to harm. Often, from a practical or legal standpoint, aggressive words or actions are largely meaningless except for their potential to cause emotional discomfort. Of the many benefits of not responding in kind to attack is the likelihood that the attack will be diffused much as a fire would diminish without oxygen.

Understanding and practicing this principle will produce positive effects, not just in relationship dispute resolution, but in a multitude of areas involving life’s conflict.