A coyote who was newly married lived near a river. One day his bride asked him for a meal of fish. He promised to bring some fish home even though he didn’t know how to swim. He crept quietly down to the river and discovered two otters who were struggling over a huge fish that had just caught. After killing the fish, the two began to fight about how to divide it. “I saw it first: I should have the larger portion,” said one. “But,” said the other, “I saved you when you almost drowned while catching the fish!”
They continued to bicker until the coyote walked up to them and offered to settle the argument. The two otters agreed to abide by his decision in the case. He cut the fish into three pieces. To one otter he gave the head, and to the other the tail. “The middle,” said the coyote, “belongs to the judge.” He walked away happily, saying aloud, “Fighting always leads to losers.”
The real moral of this story can easily be lost by those who too readily see the legal profession in the character of the coyote. Often those who preside over an argument do make a profit, but that fact does not detract from the central meaning. They story shows how fighting leaves those involved in the fight as the real losers. But, while we know that fighting does lead to losses on both sides, we need to be reminded of it frequently.
In the holy book of China, the Tao Te Ching, there is a saying: “A good person does not argue; the one who argues is not a good person.” Fighting with words instead of hands or other weapons is still a form of fighting. When we are caught up in a quarrel, squabble or spat, everyone walks away like the two otters – as losers. St. Paul, writing to the Colossians, said, “You must put aside now all the anger, quick temper, malice…” (Col. 3:8). The statement, “A good person does not argue” doesn’t mean that a good person doesn’t have misunderstandings. But these common difficulties re not an occasion to prove oneself right; they are opportunities to find a solution that respects both parties. Both sides should win, neither should “lose face” or be humiliated. This way of handling a misunderstanding may take twice as long as a good old fashioned argument, but when it is over, no one is a loser.
They say that in Japan a riot between students and the police takes a long time because it is most important that each side have the opportunity to win. Since it is social evil to “lose face.” the police allow the rioters proper time to demonstrate – then the rioters allow the police time to control the riot! Neither side “loses face.” Both sides, in the words of the Tao Te Ching, are “good.”
The next time you find yourself on the slippery side of a misunderstanding and are racing toward an argument, recall the tale of the coyote and the two otters, and make sure that all parties involved are able to walk away as winners. As you practice this attitude, you may find, to your surprise, that as St. Paul said to the Colossians, you have “put on” the garment of love.“A Pilgrim’s Almanac” -Edward Hays