I read an article about how men and women react differently to confrontation. It seems men have a “fight or flight” instinct and women have “calming” instinct. So, as a general rule, men either run or retaliate and women try to get everyone to calm down.

For men, “flight” could take the form of walking out or hanging up and “fight” would begin with words like “Oh yeah, how about that time you…” Another popular form of “flight” for men is taking an emotional dive. When they are criticized for some trifle, they resort to, “You’re right. I’m not a good husband.” The strategy is to avoid an emotional beating by falling on the canvas during Round 1. The accused acts so pitiful that the accuser ends up apologizing.

A woman described how her boyfriend was adept at taking a dive whenever she dared criticize him. She’d be put-off by one small aspect of his behavior but he immediately would respond: “You’re right. I’m not a good boyfriend.” I enlightened her about the male fight or flight instinct. I said that her boyfriend was using a childish, cowardly, yet highly effective escape tactic. I told her only an immature guy would pull something like that. Why, I hadn’t done it for nearly a year.

After giving her this advice and insight, I unfortunately had to go home. I knew my wife was mad at me about something but couldn’t quite figure out what it was. When we were alone at dinner, she finally told me. She proceeded to blast me for some unacceptable behavior thus putting my “fight or flight” instinct on full alert.

While the accusations flew, I had an emergency consultation with my brain’s defense attorney. The evidence against me was so strong that I couldn’t even raise a reasonable doubt. I had no mitigating circumstances and only the most threadbare excuses. I was advised to throw myself on the mercy of the court.

So, against all my manly instincts, I took it like a man. I apologized sincerely and profusely, with promises that such behavior would not be repeated. But it was a struggle to keep from bolting from the table, or trying to turn the criticism around.

We see the fight or flight instinct in our male politicians all the time.

Illinois House Speaker, Mike Madigan (D), for example, seems adept at both strategies.

When he was called to a special meeting last month to discuss the state budget crisis with Governor Pat Quinn and Senate President John Cullerton, he suddenly became “unavailable,” displaying the flight instinct.

He didn’t even leave a cell number – his aides said he doesn’t own one of the devices. Quinn evidently left a message at home with Madigan’s wife. But by boycotting the meeting Madigan displayed a passive-aggressive attack on Quinn’s authority.

Quinn must have sighed with satisfaction when he signed the executive emergency order to freeze the salaries of Illinois legislators until the pension crisis is hammered out. Especially Madigan’s.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.

One reply on “‘Fight or flight’ vs. the calming instinct”