Excerpted from "Just Add Buddha! Quick Buddhist Solutions for Hellish Bosses, Traffic Jams, Stubborn Spouses, & Other Annoyances of Everyday Life" by Franz Metcalf. Reprinted with permission from Ulysses Press.

How Fights Happen and How You Can Diffuse Them

Imagine you're at a party, talking with an acquaintance about families, and somehow the topic of abortion comes up. That person says some horribly unfeeling thing. You begin to get upset. You blurt out your passionate feeling. The other person gets hotter and says something so stupid, so intentionally hurtful, that you are simultaneously incensed and driven to fix him or her. This kind of thing is especially prone to happen if there's alcohol involved, but alcohol is not the problem. It happens at work, too, where there's no alcohol, only human beings. Some bozo thinks he knows better than you how to organize a meeting, write a memo, or install widgets; you starting arguing, and you just have to win.

I like to win verbal arguments as much as the next guy. But it's almost always pointless, and I've managed to get to a point where I can stop myself. I still want to be right, but I stop fighting to be right, and I do it by concentrating on exactly that feeling of wanting to win.

When I realize I'm in a fight, when I feel anger and a drive to win, I take one second to feel the intensity of my need to be right and win. I then place that intensity in the head of my opponent. That allows me to feel how much winning means to them, too. As I wish to win, so does my opponent. Immediately, I lose much of my desire to defeat them. It's not that I don't want to be proven right; it's just that I don't want to harm someone so much like me.

Feel the intensity of your own anger and drive. See that in your opponent. Know you are the same. Feel yourself relax. Sometimes this is even a little bit funny; you'll find yourself shaking your head at yourself. That's okay.

While we're on the subject, let's consider . . .

Another Way to Defuse a Fight

We can only fight effectively with someone close to our own level. Someone below us isn't a strong enough enemy, while someone above us is too strong (and may find us too weak). So, if you feel a fight coming on, stop the process by getting rid of the even fighting ground.

Suppose you're fighting with a co-worker over a problem that's not getting dealt with and is getting worse. The stakes might be high for both of you. With the high stakes come high tensions that easily warp into anger. When you feel that anger and know you're about to say or do something hurtful, instead raise up your co-worker as you would a sacred image such as a Buddha. Visualize lifting that person right up into the purity of the heavens, where the clear mind of light will pour through him and maybe give him some sense for once. You are lifting him up and simultaneously prostrating yourself. After all, that person is the Buddha, or could be, so there's no sacrilege.

The part about lowering the self is easier. In the middle of a fight, when you can't even manage to think of your enemy's needs and sufferings, just bow. Yes, a full prostration would look a trifle odd, especially if, say, you're mad at the grocery clerk or the meter maid. But you can bow your head. Your opponent may may think you're just too disgusted to look at him or her. That may even be true. But the very act of bowing, of letting yourself relax, of lowering your level of hostility, changes your inner world. You break the chain of anger and open yourself to the kernel of Buddhahood inside the other. Just bow inside and let what happens happen.

What Vows Are For

Imagine you're fighting with your partner. Let's call him a him, though it could just as easily be a her. Both sexes have been known to fight. You're fighting about who's been worse in dealing with the car maintenance. Or, even better, you're fighting about the way he snidely implied that you've been slack, while he's fighting about your infuriating attempts to play the sensitive one in these fights. After just a few moments, the fight isn't even about the car anymore; it's about the fight itself. This is so pointless and yet so common.

When I find myself in a fight like this, I realize I'm not even listening to what my wife is saying to me. She may be shrill (and I may be self-righteous), but her shrillness doesn't matter if I'm not even hearing what she's saying. She could be a harpy or a saint; it doesn't matter when I've tuned her out. The fight can continue indefinitely with both sides yelling their internal monologues at each other.

Unless... one of us snaps us out of it by actually hearing the other. I try to do this by hearing the actual, physical voice of my wife. In my mind I try to hear that voice I'm hearing now, when it repeated the words "I, Nina, take you, Franz, to be my husband." It's the same voice. Maybe a little louder now, okay, but clearly recognizable. Wasn't it nice when I heard that voice? You bet it was. And, listen, she's still talking to me. I wonder what she's saying now. Oh no, she's angry and hurt! Let me listen and see if I can help.

It doesn't always work quite so swiftly as that, but tuning in to the remembered and treasured sound of her voice reminds me of what we share and what gives me the greatest joy on earth. I can then begin to hear the specific words she's saying now and accept them as part of the package. Hearing your partner's old voice will also bring to mind your own, saying "I, ________, take you, ________, to be my ________." That will help you harmonize your tone with your love.

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