People don’t realize that the things that happen to you in life aren’t nearly as important as the way you react to those things that happen to you. So when Derek (Cajun) got his face smashed up by thugs in Sydney earlier this month, we both made a conscious decision to make sure this incident didn’t ruin our fun.
After all, getting beat up and robbed can mess up your vacation. Or you can just say screw it and move on. We had three weeks to waste before Derek could get his eye fixed and fly back to Canada, so we rented a camper van.
We moved on.
If you’re imagining a nice, big, white caravan with two small beds and a toilet and a little BBQ stuck to the back, you’ve got it wrong. We didn’t have that kind of camper. If you’re imagining one of those Volkswagen Campers with a big hippie flower on the side and a surfboard on the top, you’re a little bit closer, but you’re still being too generous. Picture a minivan. Now picture it with the back seats removed, curtains on the windows, and bed thrown in the back. Now age it several years and spray paint it with graffiti. Add sweaty backpacker smell soaked into the seats and mattress. That was our home for three weeks.
Derek’s bad eye had a habit of going cross-eyed at times, and the thugs had stolen his driver’s license, so I was the driver. We left Sydney and went North, up the Pacific Highway towards Queensland. The landscape of New South Wales is semi-tropical and vaguely alien. Eucalyptus trees twist in ways that defy gravity, their leaves are glossy and strange. We drive by cliffs exposing the seashore of an ancient ocean, strange coral stones miles from the shore.
Long drives lead to long conversations and plenty of silence. I focused on the road while Derek played with the radio, periodically running his hand along the swollen side of his face. Soon we knew the words to every advertisement by heart, and aped the funny accents of the actors.
Finally, I asked Derek, because the question has been bothering me. “Why did you decide to fight those guys? You must have known you were going to lose.”
Derek sat back in the seat, “I don’t know… growing up I learned that sometimes you just need to act a bit crazy sometimes, you need to fight a losing battle, just so people know they can’t fuck with you. Even if you know you’ll get it worse than they do, you need to let people know you’re willing to take it.” He ran his fingers along the bandages on his face.
“So, pride basically?”
“I guess it’s pride… but where I came from it’s a lot more than that. I had to teach those guys something… next time they’ll think twice before jumping a Canadian.”
I believe in picking my battles. Generally speaking, I don’t engage in conflict unless I think there’s something important at stake, or I think I can win. I’m not a coward, but I wouldn’t fight three guys over an empty wallet; Cajun would.
But maybe Cajun’s right; maybe you do need to fight a hopeless fight here and there, just to teach people not to fuck with you. Maybe losing battles serve a purpose too.
I know that when you’re playing poker, you need to bluff. If every hand you bet on is a good hand, your opponents will quickly learn to stop calling you. You need to lose a few hands, get called out a few times bluffing, to keep your opponent uncertain. That’s how you win.
So maybe picking your battles too carefully isn’t really a good strategy after all. Maybe you need to pick a few helpless causes here or there, if it will make people see you in a different light, if it will make them respect you and maybe even fear you a bit. I’m not just talking about physical fights here, but conflicts in general. Sometimes, when people know where your limits are, they will take advantage of that – they’ll take you to
the limits every time, but no further. Sometimes when you say “this fight isn’t worth it”, you’re not looking at the bigger picture. What about the next fight, and the one after that?
I have to admit, at first I thought Cajun’s decision to stand and fight when those thugs surrounded him was pretty foolish. But I think I’ve changed my mind. Caution may be the better part of valor, but that doesn’t mean you always need to fight to win.
Oh yeah… and think twice before you fuck with a Canadian.