The Most Important Human Behavior

September 4th, 2014 By Steven Knope, MD

The Most Important Human Behavior

Thanks to all of you who responded with your thoughtful opinions on the most important human behavior. Here are some of the answers you submitted: “Moderation; courage; self-confidence; self-reliance; and communication.” These are certainly useful qualities for success. However, these are not fundamental behaviors. I was looking for an action – a simple behavior – which is critical to survival. This behavior is necessary not only for our psychological survival, but for our literal survival and the survival of our nation.

Follow My Logic
If you accept that the word “no” is the most important word in the English language, then there must be a corresponding behavior to back up that word. Though we communicate primarily through words, our actions are far more consequential than anything we might say. What do you do when people ignore your use of the word “no?” What happens if you say “no” to a rapist or a home invader? What happened when our government merely said “no” to the Mullahs of Iran, who are still working toward obtaining a nuclear weapon? What happened when tens of thousands of doctors opposed and said “no” to ObamaCare in national surveys, but never backed up their “no” with action? The answer is nothing happened! Words are not enough.

IsisPredators do not respect the word “no.” Predators come in all shapes and sizes, and they are found in all walks of life. Predators attack individuals. Predators attack groups and entire nations. Predators attack people because of their religion. This has been the case throughout human history and it will continue as long as man inhabits the planet earth. Human predators are found on our streets, in the business world, in medical offices, in our government – even in sacred institutions that we entrust with helping others, such as our churches. When you consider the depth and breadth of the sexual predator scandal in the Catholic Church it is almost impossible to comprehend. And yet there it is for all to see: Priests-as-predators, preying on the most innocent of children, who looked to them for protection and guidance.

Successful predators are expert in disguising their motives. Predators take what they want, be it your money, your body, the innocence of your children, your freedoms or even your life. Predators in the Middle East think nothing of beheading American journalists to terrorize Western civilization. Predatory business people steal the intellectual property of their competitors. Predators in the healthcare world have robbed doctors of their professional autonomy and control for purely financial reasons, doing great harm to vulnerable patients in the process. Many human predators are sociopaths and narcissists, who do not think the way that you do. These people are very dangerous and destructive.

The Most Important Behavior
So here is your answer. In any predatory situation, in which someone ignores your use of the word “no” and tries to hurt you – be it to hurt you financially, professionally or physically – there is only one human behavior that will save you: It is called fighting! Fighting is the most important and fundamental human behavior for survival.

Why Talk About Fighting?
Why would a doctor talk about the importance of fighting? During my lifetime, I have witnessed the cost of failing to fight on numerous occasions. I’ve also had more than my share of interactions with predators. I’ve watched trial lawyers, insurance companies, and government bureaucrats take control of the medical profession, with nary a peep from doctors. I’ve had my own life threatened on more than one occasion, once in a VA hospital by a drug-addicted patient with a gun, and more than once on the streets. I’ve cared for patients who have had their lives shattered by sexual predators. In short, I’ve seen a lot of predatory behavior and I’ve done a fair amount of fighting.

I have also chosen this topic of fighting for The Pearl because many of you responded so positively to my piece on The Most Important Word. It is clearly liberating for people to realize that they can use the word “no” and set personal boundaries, as opposed to living life on someone else’s terms. But if the lesson in setting boundaries stops with the use of the word “no,” I have done a great disservice. If you are not prepared to fight for the boundaries that you set, you will be nothing more than a paper tiger.

Finally, I believe that it is important to discuss the necessity of fighting to counter the utopian view fostered by the politically correct that all fighting is bad. This is nonsense. Our country was founded on fighting. Our country is here only because great men fought and died for our freedoms. And yet we deny this reality and we now ask our soldiers to go into battle hamstrung by dangerous “rules of engagement,” which have cost countless limbs and lives. This is insanity.

What is Fighting?
Fighting is not the glamorized, superhuman theatrics that is portrayed in Hollywood action films. It is not a blind rush into the breach or a machismo response to a threat. Fighting starts by cultivating an indomitable spirit. From that spirit flows the motivation to acquire the skills and training necessary to fight a specific threat. Fighting as a soldier in the infantry requires a completely different training and skill set than a CEO fighting a hostile takeover by a competitor.

And understand this: Fighting is a brutal, nasty business. It is not pleasant. It is often messy and victory is never guaranteed, no matter who you are. While you are in the middle of a fight, pacifists and opponents will criticize you as being unnecessarily aggressive.

So let’s take a look at some recent news stories and see if fighting is really relevant to our daily lives in the 21st Century.

Dr Lee SilvermanThe Individual Attacked
You may have read last month about a psychiatrist, Dr. Lee Silverman of Pennsylvania, who shot and gravely injured his patient in self-defense. The patient, Richard Plotts, walked into Dr. Silverman’s clinic, shot a case worker twice in the head and killed her. This sociopath then directed his attention to the doctor and shot at him twice, grazing the doctor’s head and thumb. The doctor drew his handgun, returned fire and shot Mr. Plotts 3 times, at which point Plotts was tackled and restrained.

Richard Plotts survived his wounds and is now facing murder charges. Dr. Silverman was lauded by both the District Attorney and law enforcement officers as a hero. These professionals said that Dr. Silverman not only saved his own life, but saved the lives of many other people in that clinic. They said that Plotts had 39 rounds left after killing the case worker, which he surely would have used on other victims had he not been stopped by Silverman. (Sound familiar?)

Predators do not respect the law
For those of you who believe that stricter gun laws would have prevented this tragedy in Pennsylvania, this belief is not supported by the evidence. The hospital where Dr. Silverman works is a gun-free zone. It was illegal for Mr. Plotts to enter the clinic with a gun. Interestingly, it was also illegal for Dr. Silverman to carry a weapon. Dr. Silverman knowingly violated the hospital’s gun-free policy by carrying his own concealed weapon, because he understood that this policy would make him vulnerable to predators. He made the conscious decision to carry a concealed gun, against hospital policy, because he had the training and education to understand the risks in treating dangerous psychiatric patients. He apparently reasoned that it would be better to face the music should he ever have to use his weapon in self-defense than to be left to the mercy of a killer. The fact is that sociopaths who commit mass shootings in schools and other public places do not respect “gun-free zones.” In fact, they seek out gun-free zones, because they know that everyone else will be unarmed.

Even more interesting, the hospital has issued a statement since this incident, stating that they wish Dr. Silverman a speedy recovery and will welcome him back to the hospital when he is ready to return. There will be no charges brought against the doctor for violating the gun-free policy, nor will he lose his job for disregarding the gun-free zone. Dr. Silverman did what most doctors would never consider doing: He anticipated a very real danger in his profession and he trained himself to fight should the need ever arise. Most doctors are afraid to stand up to insurance executives, much less fight an armed sociopath with a gun.

The Option of Appeasement
Of course, people always have the option of appeasing an enemy or trying to bargain with their attackers. Bargaining with predators has been attempted since the beginning of time. However, bargaining from a position of weakness never works. Predators attack those that they perceive as weak because the weak make easy targets. So why would a predator respond to a plea for mercy from a vulnerable person whom he already decided to attack?

Chamberlain and HitlerCountries have tried to use appeasement against predators with disastrous consequences. Neville Chamberlain, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, has become synonymous with the term appeasement. In 1938, when faced with the prospects of another world war, and a war-weary Europe (much like the US today), Chamberlain unilaterally decided to meet with Adolf Hitler during the Czechoslovakian crisis in an effort to prevent a second world war. He made the sophomoric error of actually believing that he could negotiate with Hitler. Without getting the approval of the Czechs, he surrendered a vital portion of that country to Hitler and then claimed victory in preventing another world war. This was not just bad leadership; it was sheer cowardice and arrogance.

Despite the public support for Chamberlain’s actions, Winston Churchill excoriated Chamberlain saying: “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” Churchill, of course, was right. Hitler smelled weakness and one year later WWII began with Germany’s invasion of Poland. If you want to examine the mind of an appeaser, look at the video footage of a triumphant Chamberlain returning to England to give his “Peace in Our Time” speech after bowing to Hitler. Even more revealing, watch the adoring crowds who applauded Chamberlain after he offered up the Czechs as a sacrifice to one of the most evil sociopaths in history.

Why no one got the “right” answer
No one who responded to my question identified “fighting” as the most important human behavior. There are probably many reasons for this. Most people do not like conflict. Many people have not experienced life-threatening events in their lives that force them to examine the need to fight. Most of us have never served in the armed forces, and even fewer have had real combat experience. And finally, many people use the coping mechanism of denial, which allows them to ignore the need to fight.

This is not political
For those who reject my belief that fighting is the most important human behavior, I have no problem with your disagreement. I am not a politician. Politics is the art of persuasion and I have no interest in persuading you of my point of view. My views are the product of my own experiences.

But when doctors ask me how it is that I am able to practice medicine on my own terms in this difficult environment, I explain to them that they will have to fight to do so. I fought and took risks in my battles against the HMOs and the insurance industry for my freedom. When it became clear to me that other doctors would not fight alongside me, and that I could not win the battle alone, I decided to leave the system that the predators created. I refused to be complicit in their plans to control physicians. Most of the doctors I know who refused to fight are now little more than employees of those predators that they refused to fight. Had they fought, their story would have had a different ending, and their patients would have benefited from the fight.

The Core Message
I leave you with a final message, which is the message that all of the black belts in my martial arts studio taught the children at the end of every beginner’s class: “No one has the right to hurt you.” We looked at those little children and we drummed this message into their heads with every lesson. We told them that if anyone ever tried to abduct them or harm them, they should bite, kick, scream and claw as hard as they could. Though they were not old enough to defend themselves with punches and kicks, they were old enough to bite, kick and scream, which in a child abduction situation, can mean the difference between life and death.

Unless you lead a charmed life, chances are that at some point a predator or predators will attempt to harm you by taking your wealth, your freedoms or even your life. In these situations, the message that we taught those children applies to you: No one has the right to hurt you. There can be no excuse, no rational, no explanation that would justify another person harming you or harming those that you love. And if you accept this concept, then it becomes your responsibility to fight for what you value. If you lack and are unwilling to cultivate that indomitable spirit, if you lack the skills and training to fight, you may well find yourself at the mercy of someone who places little value on human life. And for this reason, it is probably worth a little time to think about the importance of fighting.


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