“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get muddy, and besides, the pig likes it.”
— George Bernard Shaw
Ever so often, I remind myself of Shaw’s advice.
Unfortunately, more often, I forget it. I engage in conflict too quickly with someone who wants the conflict.
True, I’m not the only one with this weakness. We fall so easily into conflict. Even our “best and brightest” can’t resist little pig fights.
So I believe the Shaw quote belongs in our new mythology. But only if we add this extra bit:
When we wrestle with a pig, we not only get muddy, we become a pig ourselves.
So why do I want to wrestle? I don’t like conflict—not really. I don’t…but I do. Some part of me does. Some pig part. The pig part wants to fight…
…and sometimes any fight will do.
But I usually try to satisfy the pig without getting muddy. I’ll watch some type of fight from the sidelines. Though on one level, the spectacle may repulse me…
…on a pig level, I’m squealing with delight. So I’m still in the mud.
Years ago, when I first became aware of the pig, I tried to squash it. But the pig fought for its life—and won.
That’s just as well. I think my own survival, to a certain extant, depends on the pig’s aggressiveness.
Unfortunately, the pig isn’t the best judge of reality. A challenge to the ego may be seen as a survival threat. And there are so many challenges to the ego. Even a loss by a favorite sports team may seem like a challenge. The pig often—too often—tries to fight these false threats.
But there’s more to the pig problem…
Old wounds—no matter how ancient—are also experienced as threats. Yes, in this case, the threats are legitimate, since they do affect our well-being. However, the pig tries to resolve these old conflicts, these deep grievances, using a flawed strategy…
It’ll enter into a conflict because the situation mirrors an inner conflict, a deep grievance. It wants to deal with the grievance out there, in the outer world. But the old wound can only be healed by going within. If anything, the pig’s strategy makes matters worse.
So then, how can I best handle the pig?
I’m certainly no expert. But I do know this: awareness is key. I need to be aware the moment the pig lifts its little snout. I then need to question what’s going on within. Instead of trying to shut the pig down, I need to listen to it.
By listening, I can determine the true cause of its anger. I can find the wound. I can then work on the real problem. I can deal with the grief. It takes practice and patience.
I can also keep repeating the Shaw quote to myself. The muddy-pig mantra won’t heal a wound…
…but it may stop me before I start to wrestle.
And when I forget Shaw’s wisdom—when I disappoint myself with another display of pigness…
…I can remind myself how much I’ve grown. Little by little, consistently through the years, I’ve become stronger. So though I’ll probably never get rid of my pig tail…
…in time, I think I can keep it from wagging me.
© 2016, Michael R. Patton
my war for peace: the book