Social science tells us there is a spectrum between two types of people when it comes to conflict: confrontational and avoidant. Confrontational is the good one that you want to be:
There are two personality profiles, healthy and unhealthy, that illustrate different responses to stress and denial. The first is the “Confronter” and the second is the “Evader.” At a leading university, students were tested for these distinctly different personality profiles and then divided into two groups, based on whether they were predominantly Evaders or predominantly Confronters.
The first group, the Evaders, were put into a room where each person was hooked up to an electrode that gave him or her a mild electric shock every sixty seconds. There was a clock on the wall located where the students could see it. Every time the second hand passed the number twelve, the students received a shock to their fingertips.
When the Evaders were hooked up to the electrode, they engaged in a variety of behaviors to distract themselves as the second hand moved toward the twelve. The researchers had put a video camera in the clock so they could observe the faces and eyes of the students from that viewpoint. As the second hand came up to the twelve, the most noteworthy behavior of the Evaders was that they refused to look at the clock when it signaled that the shock was coming. Instead, they looked away. They evaded facing the symbol of their stress and discomfort.
At the end of the experiment, the Evaders were tested. Their heart rates, their respiratory rates and their blood pressures, all good indicators of stress, were 30 to 40 percent above their rates as measured before the test.
Then the students identified as Confronters were brought into the room. They were also hooked up to the electrodes and told that they would receive a mild electric shock each time the second hand crossed the twelve.
The researchers watched the Confronters through the hidden camera. The most noticeable difference between the Confronters and the Evaders was that, although the Confronters engaged in the same behavior to distract themselves and to take their minds off the coming shock, when the second hand came up to the twelve, all of the Confronters were looking straight at the clock and were mentally prepared to take the shock on the ends of their fingers.
At the end of the experiment, the Confronters’ blood pressure and heart rates were almost exactly the same as they had been before the test.
Men and women who squarely confront their problems and difficulties are far healthier than those who evade them. They are far happier than those who hope that they will go away or take care of themselves. The more willing you are to honestly confront the difficulties and challenges facing you, the happier and healthier you will be. THE KEY TO INNER STRENGTH By continually facing your problems honestly and objectively, you become a more confident and competent person. You become stronger and more self-reliant. You stop being afraid of unpleasant situations in your work or personal life. You deal with life as it is, not as you wish it were.Tracy, Brian. Maximum Achievement: Strategies and Skills that Will Unlock Your Hidden Powers to Succeed (pp. 249-250). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
Disagreeable people, though less resilient than average (as in Seligman), tend to be more combative and competitive (via testosteronized brains) and thus are very often confronters. It’s typical for us to become extremely intellectually curious early in life simply by recognizing that the truth is very helpful for winning arguments. A side effect of this is that the platonic “Other” in our minds often becomes highly archetypal, having very clear personality characteristics that are mostly inspired by only one or two extraordinarily perfidious real-life examples (these being a bridge to access the collective unconscious for intuitions about this type of person). That is, when we go looking for fights we end up looking for a specific sort of person to fight with who represents our personalized platonic Enemy.
As long as it doesn’t descend into idolatry, this is a good thing because it’s generally focusing and productive, but here is my caveat: Choose your opponents with the understanding that you’re going to become exactly like them except in one single respect. They are going to be spending a lot of time rent-free in your head, probably years, and like it or not you’re going to become their mirrored image. If you pick fights with weak monsters, you will be weak. If you want to be strong, pick fights with strong monsters. If you compare your wealth to poor people, you will become poor. If you want to be a millionaire, compete with other millionaires. That is, he who fights monsters should take care to fight the sort of monsters he admires and wants to become similar to in every respect other than being their opposite in the singular essence which he specifically thinks makes them a monster (correctly, we hope).
The easiest example of this, for me, is Vox Day and the archetypal Gamma (probably as originally inspired by John Scalzi). It’s not controversial to describe Gammas as Vox’s Other for several years, before it shifted to pedophiles in the last couple of years. During these years, he extensively detailed the innermost workings and outer signals of Gammas, which can be most easily summarized by reference to the comic book guy from the Simpsons. Not coincidentally, he has become the comic book guy by all appearances except in that one detail which he considers the most important to the definition. Don’t let this happen to you.
The more I learn about Goethe, the more I consider him the best choice of Enemy for me. He is admirably superior to me in almost every way other than being an atheist. And even in those few ways where I’d consider him inferior, I find myself converging toward him in those traits. My hope is that all aspects of his nefarious influence on the last two centuries of culture is logically downstream from his atheism, so that if I am not an atheist these will not also manifest in me.