- Chapter 19 -
1st century A.D. Roman philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, offered a maxim of five words, full of wisdom: "Walk around the briar patch." Think of the people you know who find it necessary, again and again, to charge through the briar patch, and who end up with shins full of thorns and stickers, and painful and delayed arrivals at the destination. Or maybe, they never get to the destination at all.
There are a number of war cries which are shouted with emotion as people charge into the briar patch. You have heard these and can think of many more:
"They can't get away with that."
"I'll fix him."
"Who does she think she is?"
It is strange that many people think it is somehow cowardly to go around the thorns. A longer, safer, more peaceful and surer route can be followed with dignity, self-respect, and wisdom. There are even some people who can skip around the briar patch, whistling.
One of the outstanding briar patches of life is that of arguments. Most often, arguing causes the other person to become defensive and more convinced than ever about his or her opinion. What can be done about it? Here are some suggestions:
- Disengage. Agree with the opposition to stop the argument and let some time pass, which often brings about a modification of both positions.
- Develop more facts. Established facts are difficult to argue about.
- Appeal to the other person. Ask for a modification or a change in position on his or her part because it means so much to you. People are often responsive to an appeal whereas they resist if someone tries to argue them into it. Try saying, "I want to make an appeal to you about something."
- Identify points of agreement. Go from there.
- Find a mediator.
If someone makes a statement with which you disagree, if you say nothing, sometimes it just disappears into oblivion. Challenging it turns it into an ISSUE, and ISSUES tend to blossom. On the other hand, if it is something you think is of sufficient importance to challenge, go to it. Frequently, however, you might realize that there is no chance of changing some obstinate person's point of view, and a heated discussion, or, indeed, an argument, can serve no purpose.
Now, none of this is meant to imply that there are not occasions in life when you should fight to the end, even at the risk of life. Those who say there is nothing worth dying for face the fact that someday they will die for nothing. The important rule is to CHOOSE YOUR BATTLEGROUNDS. Many skirmishes can be avoided, but there are times when there is no alternative but to stand up and fight.
One wonders about the battlegrounds some people choose. A dispute over $909 worth of window bars in a cooperative apartment turned into such a battle that the accumulated lawyers' fees for both sides amounted to over $100,000 and the case still was not settled. You can hear the battle cries as the antagonists charge into the briar patch: "We'll beat him in court." and "I won't let them get away with that."
You can't always win but you can
always do what you think is right.
There follows an account of three episodes of choosing battlegrounds. The first describes Rubie's victorious battle in court on a moral principle. The second involved my effort under similar circumstances when I was soundly defeated. The third case describes how two prominent businessmen and I were sued because a woman claimed we did not protect her from being raped.
Rubie hired a man to do painting and his first day at work he claimed he sprayed paint in his eye. It was clearly a fake, which Rubie felt was confirmed after she took him to the doctor. Nevertheless, he sued for $40,000. This was 20 years ago before the monstrous suits which are taking place today. Rubie insisted that she wanted to go to court on the case, even though our insurance would have paid any claim, because she was outraged at the clear fraud. The lawyer for the plaintiff called me and said they would settle for $3,000. Rubie felt that any settlement was a sacrifice of the moral principle, so to court we went.
Rubie's display of righteous indignation on the witness stand was marvelous to behold. The opposition produced a psychiatrist who said that the man had not been blinded but the psychological effect on him was the same AS IF he had been blinded. You can apparently hire an "expert" who will say anything you want him to. I have a name for the doctor, but it has been edited out of this text. The climax came when our lawyer produced evidence in court that this same man had made five similar claims in the past all with the same lawyer. Five proven cases were enough to present although there were indications of several more. The judge decided against him, but, much to our surprise, the opposing lawyer appealed the case and lost again.
In my case, a man in another state stole a considerable amount of a valuable product from a business in which I was a major stockholder. (You cannot be an entrepreneur with a variety of activities without having an occasional situation like this.) My lawyer told me I had both a legal and moral obligation to take action against him. However, I had already come to this decision. Criminals go free frequently because people do not have the courage to appear in court or do whatever is necessary to see that justice is carried out, because, as they say, they do not want to "get involved". Mine was such a flagrant case I decided to pursue it.
At considerable expense to myself, we prepared our case, which included, among other things, having investigators hide in the weeds gathering evidence. We felt confident of conviction, but first it had to go to the Grand Jury.
The presentation to the Grand Jury was a joke. The jurors saw it as an effort on the part of some rich city slicker to hurt one of their boys. They sat with their feet up on chairs, talked during the presentation, and promptly refused to approve the case. The perpetrator felt vindicated and, even admitted with a tone of defiance to one of my associates that indeed he had stolen from us. After all of my efforts, justice was not served, and certainly the perpetrator underwent no change of morality.
However, I have no regrets, and I refuse to be bitter about experiences such as this. I chose a battleground on a moral basis, planned as best as I could, and certainly was not the first person with a righteous cause to go down in defeat. Two business men and I owned an apartment complex 150 miles from where we live. One day a man knocked on the door of an apartment belonging to a young woman and said he had to inspect her water heater, so she let him in. Instead, you can imagine what took place. After the event she told the Resident Manager how foolish she had been to believe him and to admit him into her apartment.
However, a litigating lawyer got hold of her, and she sued us, the owners, because, as the claim was, we did not have a sufficient number of security guards roaming the premises to protect her. We never were called upon to explain that we were all 150 miles away during the incident, because our insurance company took up the defense. Rather than go to court, they settled and she, and, of course, her contingency lawyer, received a handsome amount. I do not recall if our insurance premiums were increased as a result, but it is possible.
This is not a true case of choosing a battleground, because the choice was determined by our insurance company. But it is an illustration of the battlegrounds of life.
Probably many readers are reacting by expressing the viewpoint that nothing as major as these events ever happens to them. But we are all faced with disagreements in life, almost on a daily basis, with family members, with friends, and with the many people with whom we come in contact. Though they may appear to be minor at first, they can become can be major in effect. It is wise to realize that we do indeed have choices as to how we handle such matters and hope we have the wisdom to make the proper choices.