The Verbal Knockout
By Don Staheli

Embrace your opponent in a way that lessens the threat and leads to understanding.

When the televised boxing match began, my wife left the room. Too violent for her. All the kids but one drifted away to something more meaningful. Only our youngest daughter was interested in watching the mayhem with her father, so we sat in the semidarkness enthralled by the spectacle of fisticuffs. There was something very basic, even visceral, about the sweat, the blood, the swollen eyes and flat noses of the fighters. A man in blue trunks and one in white, like desperate predators in opposite corners of the cage, ready to pounce again as soon as they gained their breath.

We watched several rounds of jabbing and sparring until blue trunks saw an opening and landed a heavy blow to the head of his opponent. White trunks reeled and tried to protect himself. Another blow to the head and then one to the midsection and another to the head. He was dazed and hurt. With no hope for the mercy of a saving bell, the injured white trunks fell onto his attacker, embracing him in a fearsome clench.

“Why doesn’t he run away?” asked my little girl. “Why doesn’t he back up so the other guy can’t hit him?”

Good questions. It looked like getting close to the powerful fists of blue trunks was the last thing the man in white ought to be doing. The square ring offers few hiding places, but it seemed to my daughter that he would be wiser to get on his boxing bicycle and try to outrun the pummeling. Not so. Retreating when hurt usually allows the opponent to step up and throw another blow, sometimes a knockout.

When a boxer gets tired or hurt, often the best thing he can do is get in close and hang on to the other fighter. When he moves in to the point of embracing his opponent in a sort of sweaty bear hug, he just can’t be hit. The aggressor has lost his leverage, and the pair are too close to allow either one to get a good swing. Not a bad strategy, even for those of us who have no pugilistic ambitions.

When someone lands a verbal punch, the natural reaction is to back up or run. It hurts when we get socked with a stiff jab from a sharp tongue. But, just as with an unskilled boxer, backing off can easily set us up for a more severe beating. It’s usually best to move in and neutralize our opponent’s ability to strike.

On more than one occasion, an individual has lashed out at me for some perceived wrong I have committed. Once or twice I have responded with a verbal comeback that did nothing but excite my opponent to throw some more my way. Sometimes I have figuratively run away or at least backed off, allowing the one who saw me as the enemy to have even more room to fight. The far better strategy has been to move in close.

Hey, you really seem angry. Slow down, talk about it, what went wrong.

Some huffing and puffing, an explanation of my supposed error, but no more punches thrown.

You’re kidding. I had no idea. I’m really sorry you saw it that way.

The fight is over. A little more explanation. An increase in understanding. If you’re lucky, some real communication and a strengthening of the relationship. None of that would have been likely if you had backed up or run away.

Slip his punches. Step into him. Minimize his advantage. Keep him off balance. Don’t let him swing. Good advice for a dazed boxer. Perhaps even better for a fighter in a war of words.

2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.