It was mid-fall in the late forties, and I was fit to be tied. Miss Broom, my second grade teacher, made me stay after school for detention. She caught Dean Presley and me fighting in the cloakroom. Dean had been picking on me all week, and I wasn't going to take it any longer. I decided to right this wrong by teaching him a lesson.
It was 4:30 when I got home that night-having taught him a lesson and after serving my detention. Mr. Lee greeted me from across the street, "Working overtime at school?" I went over to talk with him and to explain how Dean had been riding me. I told my friend that I had wanted to teach him a lesson. My comment gave Mr. Lee an opportunity to teach me a lesson about life.
Mr. Lee told me about how warring landlords in his Chinese homeland would swoop down upon villages and burn down their enemy's town. The problem with this was that the other landlord would retaliate by burning down the other's village. This fighting fire with fire continued for years. Mr. Lee went on to tell me about how on these raids someone would often get burned while setting fire to their enemy's village. Fighting fire with fire often got both parties burned.
Mr. Lee then asked me, "What will Dean do now that you have taught him a lesson, Allen?" I pondered his question for a moment and then blurted out, "He will try to get even with me."
"Right! You and Dean will merely escalate your fighting to a higher level without an end in sight." Then he added, "How can you deal better with the conflict between you?"
This question took more thought than Mr. Lee's first question. After some thinking, I said that I could tell Miss Broom about it. He indicated that there were other possible actions that I could also take. So, I thought further and sheepishly said that I could talk with Dean. Then I added that I could avoid him if talking with him didn't work.
Mr. Lee concluded his lesson on life by asking me whether the consequence of my wanting to teach Dean a lesson was worth the detention? Even in second grade, I understood that it was not cost effective to continue my feud with him. Having to stay after school was too high of a price to pay-especially, since he probably hadn't learned his lesson. Then Mr. Lee leaned toward me and said, "Allen, do right with wrong-it's the only way of avoiding getting burned."
What was true for Dean and me years ago back in Merchantville, NJ is equally true for you and your firefights in life. Whether these incendiary conflicts occur at home, school, or at work, the cost of continuing them is too high. Mr. Lee's advice is just as applicable today as it was nearly a half century ago. Take the initiative and talk with the one with whom you are at war. If this doesn't work, talk with an outsider whether professional or just a friend. Get help with finding a resolution of the conflict. Nations often have to resort to this, so also do individuals. If talking it out doesn't work, try to avoid the person and the issue.
Regardless of the conflict, avoid fighting fire with fire; all too often our attempt at protecting ourselves from getting burned by trying to burn the other results in our getting burned. Obviously, this doesn't make any sense. Don't forget Mr. Lee's advice to me years ago, "Allen, do right with wrong-it's the only way of avoiding getting burned."
I hope that my attempt to teach Dean Presley a lesson will help you learn Mr. Lee's lesson of life. Make everyday a fire prevention day.
This article first appeared in the Dixon Telegraph.