Aikido for Bad Behavior

AikidoWe had an opportunity to visit Japan several times, over the course of a decade working with Japanese psychiatrists to improve how Japanese psychiatric hospitals work with potentially violent patients.  During one of those trips, we came across a wonderful story that has stuck with us ever since.  It is the story of a young man who is confronted by a violent drunk who is attacking helpless people on a subway train.  This young man himself has been training in the martial art of Aikido and is eager to practice it.

However, in the course of the story, he receives instruction in a very different approach to dealing with anger and potential violence.  That approach begins by trying to engage the person and then using verbal moves to diffuse his anger and ultimately to connect him to another emotion (sadness, or anxiety or…) that seems to be motivating his anger.

For the full story by Terry Dobson go here – It is well worth reading…

Five years after that, we came across another interesting item.  This time it was a song written by a physician (Amy Salzman – who has a wonderful website called The Still Quiet Place) who was interested in teaching young children how to practice meditation.  The song is called Wilds. It is about how you might catch the attention of a young overly rambunctious child and bring him or her down to the level of energy where some kind of meditation practice is possible.

As with the first story, the first move is to match the energy.. and then to gradually bring it down to a level that is more manageable.

Around that same time, I began to wonder how best to deal with my son when he became agitated or angry.  If I dealt with his anger directly, often with a certain amount of intensity, the results weren’t great.

Attacking bad behavior leads to escalation or stalemate.

Trying to join with the person may allow you to change their direction.

Today we were talking with a woman about the rudeness of her husband.  All of us know that it’s difficult not to take personally the bad behavior of a spouse or child.  

As we explored the interaction that had taken place, it quickly became clear she had gotten very angry at his rudeness, and once she was angry she found that she only had two options, to fight back or to say nothing.

We played around with the idea that perhaps there could have been some other way of responding.

The problem that was getting in the way of creative solution was her sense of embarrassment about his behavior and responsibility for his behavior.  When we were able to imagine a scenario where someone could engage in the same bad behavior, but she wouldn’t feel personally responsible for it, she was able to consider alternative ways of intervening.

Perhaps she could have expressed an interest in what he was talking about in such an obnoxious way.  Maybe by accepting his interest the topic, she could have brought him around to seeing that he was being a bit of a boor.

Confronting bad behavior is often not the best way to change things. And anger is one of those emotions that can get in the way of finding such creative solutions.