By Margaret Lucke
Being a pacifist at heart, I've never been in a physical fight. Oh sure, as a kid I might have slapped my little sister when she pulled my hair, or had a spat with a friend that led us to quit speaking to each other forever or for around fifteen minutes, whichever came first. But throw a punch? If that's anything like throwing a ball, my efforts would be pretty pathetic.
The other day I read a line I found interesting (though unfortunately I've forgotten where I read it). The writer described how his mother always cautioned him that it was the second punch that starts the fight. If someone picks a fight and you respond in kind, the fault for the fight lies with you as much as with your aggressor. If you refuse to engage, chances are that you'll defuse the situation and less harm will be done. Turn the other cheek, his mom advised. Give the soft answer that turneth away wrath.
I've been trying to decide whether I agree with this strategy. My natural inclination is to never throw the second punch, or the first one, or the third. Speaking softly, turning away wrath -- I'm all for that. But what if your refusal to engage just angers the bully, so that he follows up the first punch with a second one of his own? What if the damage your tormenter wants to inflict is psychological or emotional rather than a physical beating? What if your attempts to avoid confrontation require you to give up something important -- your well-being, your rights, your sense of self? Maybe there are times when you should fight back.
One of the things I love about writing fiction is that a pen, or these days a keyboard, gives you a weapon for fighting back, and the blank page provides a safe arena. Conflict is the engine that drives a story, and a resolution of the conflict is the plot's desired destination. If the protagonist doesn't throw that second punch, either physically or metaphorically, you don't have much story at all.
In novels and short stories, especially crime fiction, you have the chance to stop the aggressor, right the wrong, achieve justice, and fight all of the fights you don't dare to take on in real life. As well as a chance consider the philosophical implications of the punches your characters throw and to ponder the consequences.
How about you? In what circumstances would you throw the second punch?