I have spent the last two decades observing people who fight or disagree. I have always been fascinated by this. Actually “obsessed” would be a much better word to describe my fascination. I remember reading a book by the Christian fantasy author Frank Peretti, called “This present darkness” and being horrorstruck by the fights within it. The book describes the secret workings of a world hidden from human view, wherein demons and angels fight for every soul, shrouded from human eyes. Yet it was not the fights between the angels and demons that brought about an emotional reaction. Instead, it was the fact that every so often one of the “senior” demons would vent their anger and pride by bashing a weaker or smaller demon. This angered me to the point that I could hardly read. I was so frustrated by the fact that the demons could not simply “get along” and had to fight one another. Throughout my life I would always weave myself into the middle of a fight and play “peacemaker.” Though I was a hypocrite and at times fought others myself, I would always be very frustrated at the inability of people to get along. Over time certain themes emerged that are always present and prevalent in any fight. These are the four reasons why people fight. I strongly believe every single fight is caused by one or more of these four reasons.
1. Because we demand perfect respect
I have heard of stories of notable gangsters that would kill someone for simply disrespecting them verbally. Rulers and aristocrats throughout history would often execute those who disrespected them. A false accusation or other form of disrespect often escalated into a gun duel where two “honorable” men would rather risk the chance of death than walk away offended. Yet such a stalwart defense of personal honor and image is not only found in the halls of history, but also in the halls of your local high school. I managed to stay under the radar and avoid any trouble in public school, yet I know of others who didn’t. The moment a linebacker found out you were “talking smack” about him, you were headed towards a showdown. A group of his friends would surround you, to prevent others from helping you as the “offended party” would pummel you until you learned to respect him. This type of petty high school bickering transcends educational institutions and finds its way into every crevice of life. From reality TV to marriage to work, we can find see millions of fights that happen because one party (or both) demand perfect respect, and lash out when their expectation is not met. This can happen in a huge myriad of ways and methods. In some cases it can be a fist fight because one wanna-be thug insulted another. In other cases it can be a longstanding feud between two girls because one reportedly “stole” the others boyfriend, and therefore disrespected the first. The different situations and variables are limitless, but the deep seated cause is still the same; people that demand perfect respect cause fights when their needs are unmet.
2. Because we assume to know motives
I once heard one of my friends rant about another of my friends. Needless to say both were not really on friendly terms, however, the one who was talking to me assumed the other was very hostile towards him and was planning all manner of evil conspiracies against him. Yet upon talking to this evil conspirator I found out that he hadn’t the slightest idea about any of it, he was ignorant of the way his actions were interpreted. Very often we see actions and motions that people do and assume we understand the motives behind them. This has happened numerous times in my own marriage. I assume that I understand the motives behind each action, take offence at them, and later find out that was never the meaning or intended purpose. Tim Keller often talks about a series of fights he and his wife had early on in their marriage over washing the dishes. He grew up in a family where his mother washed the dishes herself to show love to her husband. Kathy Keller’s family was the opposite, her father showed love to his wife by joining her in doing the dishes. So when Kathy asked Tim to help her do the dishes and he declined, both misconstrued each other’s motives. Both felt that the other person was not being loving, yet this was not the case. One person’s careless and thoughtless action can easily become interpreted by another person as a specific desire to inflict injury.
3. Because we want to gain not give
I believe that every single fight that ever happened did so because at least one party was focused solely on personal gain. This is the source of all fights and altercations, at least one party is incessantly set on gaining some kind of benefit from the fight. Yet in every quarrel there is always a goal or a purpose. Even if this goal is not understood by the person initiating the fight, it is still there. Often this aim is something very primal, such as the other persons humiliation in an act of simple revenge. Other times the prize of the fight is respect and vindication. The person fighting has a need to be right and justify themselves. In other cases it may be about gaining more good things (money, food, gifts) or gaining freedom from bad things (hard work, uncomfortable situations) as mentioned in James 4:1-3. For example, if a group of friends sold their shared home for profit, and one of them took a larger share of the money, it is likely the others would engage him in argument with the purpose of gaining more money for themselves. People do not fight if there is no gain or achievement to be possessed. How do we know? Because there has never been a fight where both people were filled with the selfless desire to give, love, and bless the other person with absolutely no personal gain. Ultimately if more people were concerned with selfless giving rather than selfish taking, we would have less fighting.
4. Because we only see our own feelings
There have been many times where I have literally seen a fight break out in front of me. Often this has been physical, but for the most part, mainly verbal and emotional. At times I have been the cause of this fight (starting it because of these four reasons, and most often this one in particular). What I often see in the emotions and comments of these warring individuals is that each one is hyper-focused on their own personal pain or frustration, rather than seeing the other person as equally wounded. In fact, often there is a complete blindness to the pain and frustration that the other person is experiencing. At one point in my life, my wife and I had a moment of serious frustration because we felt the other was not fulfilling their role properly. Both of us were wounded and hurt by this series of conversations that we engaged in. I really felt unappreciated and judged to be not good enough. Inna really felt unloved and unprotected by me. We assumed the other person had the wrong motives because we were so captivated by our own pain. My feelings completely ensnared me from realizing that my wife was just as hurt as me, and hers did the same. Ultimately we realized that it was all a huge selfish misunderstanding, but our own selfish tendency to see our own pain and be oblivious to the other person was the dangerous culprit that attempted to wreak havoc in our life. The person you are fighting has feelings, and if you were able to see them and care about them, most fights would be avoided.
The key theme?
Ultimately all of these causes share one major theme: pride. The Scripture says that it is pride that breeds quarrels (Pro 13:10). And indeed, there are many ways and types of paths into a fight, but at the core is always this self-seeking, self-loving, self-elevating thing called selfishness.