Assertive or aggressive?

I have never been very good at dealing with conflict. I just don’t like it!

Never-the-less, we are sometimes caught in situations where we either give in too easily on the one hand or, alternatively, get too angry.  I came across this little story recently and thought it was worth sharing (again) as I believe it provides an alternative to the extremes of not acting and reacting in a negative way.

Once there was a snake with a rather bad attitude. The small village near where the snake lived was very fearful of this snake because he would strike without warning and devour its prey. It was known to eat hens, dogs, and even big animals like cows. The villagers gathered at the edge of the field, and with drumming and shouting, and sticks and stones, made up their minds to find the snake and kill it.

A holy man came upon this loud and angry crowd and asked, “What is this about?” The villagers told him of the snake’s villainy. The holy man asked, “If I make this snake stop doing these evil deeds, will you spare his life?” The villagers reluctantly agreed to give the snake – and the holy man – one chance.

The holy man entered the field and commanded the snake to come to him. “What issss it?” the snake hissed. The holy man’s words were simple: “Enough! There is no need for this. There is plenty of food without eating the villager’s animals.” The holy man spoke with kindness and authority and the snake knew his words to be true. He nodded in agreement and slithered away.

It was not long before the villagers discovered that the snake would not harm them. They were grateful, but some of the villagers in their anger over what had been done, began to beat the snake with sticks and stones. The abuse continued until he could take no more and hid underneath a large rock, determined not to break its word to the holy man. “Why is this happening to me?” he said, “ I followed the holy man’s words.” Soon the fearful snake was near death from the beatings and the lack of food.

One day, he heard the footsteps of the holy man and with his last bit of strength crawled out to meet him on the path. The holy man, seeing how terribly beaten and sickly the snake looked, asked, “What has happened to you?” The snake told the story of the beatings and torment and how for days it had hidden underneath a rock to protect itself.

The holy man stood silently shaking his head. “Oh, foolish snake,” he said, “I told you not to bite but I did not tell you not to hiss.”  With this the snake understood and slithered away.

optimism

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