I have a friend who is wise beyond his years relative to social dynamics and human interaction. He can observe an event and instantly home in on the nuances of human behavior. He would have made a great psychologist or sociologist, but instead he is a great financial analyst and manager.
Analytical, he certainly is. He would often tell me, even though many years my junior, “Bee Gee, you never want to escalate a situation. The one who escalates, loses.” Michael was specifically referring to the business environment, and commenting on interactions that occur daily with subordinates, peers, and supervisors alike. “Unfortunately”, Michael continued, “most men don’t understand this philosophy, and they pull out their weenie at the drop of a hat.”
“Pull out their weenie.” I never forgot that phrase, since it was a perfect metaphor for the essence of Michael’s argument. Sometimes in the business community, when men are feeling under stress, inferior, or brow beaten, they resort to bad judgment and bad behavior. Quite the opposite of acquiescing, their voices may rise, anger sets in, they fail to listen, they exaggerate, and a whole host of other responses that serve to escalate a situation. They are, in effect, pulling out their proverbial manhood to show the other who is boss. The preferred alternative would be to defuse the situation by listening (really listening) to the other person, showing empathy, according respect, thinking before reacting, and responding calmly. Good behavior does exist from time to time, but all too often, it does not.
In that fateful encounter in Sanford, Florida, George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin both pulled out their respective weenies.
Zimmerman could have gone home and called the police, if he felt the need to alert authorities. Or stayed in his vehicle. Instead, he made a choice to get out of his vehicle.
Martin could have continued to walk home, or run away from the situation. Or hid. Or called the police.
Instead, they found themselves confronting one another, the result of poor decisions by both.
Once faced with this uncomfortable situation, neither chose to defuse. There was apparently no discussion by Zimmerman announcing that he was the Neighborhood Watch Captain and, conversely, no discussion from Martin announcing that he was staying in the neighborhood with his father. In the penultimate act of weenie-exposing, there was again an escalation – angry verbal threats (“you got a problem…”) followed by a physical confrontation.
Perhaps, as in the old days, a single punch to the chin would have been enough to quickly start and end this confrontation -- one will never know for sure. Maybe both men could have walked away from this conflict relatively unscathed. Instead, Martin apparently chose to continue the fight and pummel Zimmerman. Exposed and feeling threatened, Zimmerman pulled out the ultimate weenie and killed Martin.
Poor choices by both. Escalation by both. One dead, and the other’s life changed forever.
Michael was right – escalation is nothing but a losing proposition.