Want a fight?

Eddy Canfor-Dumas


December 2020

I used to be quite a scrapper when I was a kid. I remember once when I was about 10 having a fight in the school playground over a game of football.

We went at each other in a whirl of kicks and punches, cheered on by the doughnut of kids who’d always instantly gather to watch any ruckus – ‘Fight! Fight!’ Until a teacher strode into the circle and hauled us off to the headmaster’s office, where we sat outside and licked our wounds – literally in his case, as I’d knocked one of his front teeth out. In return, he’d given me a black eye.

I was rather proud of it, I remember, until my dad gave me a rollicking when he came home from work. Which I found rather confusing, since I was only doing what he’d always advised – stand up for myself.

I learned in Big School that to do that using fisticuffs was a high-risk strategy, especially on the rugby pitch. The ‘boys’ there could be seriously large and the referee couldn’t always be counted on to break up a fight before proper pain was inflicted – more often on me now, as I was one of the smaller players.

So I stopped fighting physically – but my combative nature simply expressed itself in other ways.

A fundamental shift

I became very competitive, with words and wit now my fists. Which was fine as long as I was punching ‘up’ against the more powerful but not so good if punching ‘across’ at my peers. And frankly unforgivable on the few occasions I was tempted to punch ‘down’.

Even so, this approach did get me quite a long way, for quite a long while, in different areas of my life – academically, socially, even professionally at first.

Then, in my mid-20s two things happened that started a fundamental shift.

First, I had an especially intense row with my dad. We’d had a bad relationship for years and during this argument we pretty much hit rock bottom.

I realised intuitively that unless I stopped fighting him – because he definitely wasn’t going to stop having a go at me – we might as well say goodbye forever. So how to transform this was a problem I had to solve.

Second, I bumped into a Buddhist writing that really hit home.

Since those in the [competitive] world of Anger desire in every instance to be superior to everyone else and cannot bear to be inferior to anyone, they belittle and despise others and exalt themselves, like a hawk flying high and looking down on the world. At the same time, outwardly they seek to display the virtues of benevolence, justice, propriety, wisdom and fidelity.

‘Ooh,’ I winced, ‘That’s me. And I don’t like it.’ So, put the two things together and I decided to change.

Easier said than done. But a lot has been done since then.

It took seven years but I did completely turn around my relationship with my dad before he died. And if I’d taken our ‘Want a fight?’ test back then I reckon I’d have been 90% fighter and 10% problem-solver. Now it’s 85/15 the other way.

So what was the process?

From winning to win-win

Trial and error at first, then study and practice. And I’ll write more about that in future blogs.

But key to everything was the desire to make things better – and to keep at it until they were. Fighting’s necessary sometimes and OK if you win. But it sucks if you lose. And even when you win the damage to others can be significant, which isn’t nice and can come back to bite you.

More to the point, I found that problem-solving – going not for the win, but the win-win – is by far the bigger victory. It’s a whole lot more interesting and challenging, rewarding and satisfying.

So – fighter or problem-solver? Nowadays, for me, it’s no contest.

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