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Last Updated: 05/04/2012Fight or Flight: A Picture Worth 500 Words
Dusty Bates Farned
Pepperdine University graduate student Dusty Bates Farned has an uncomfortable experience with a homeless man in Los Angeles and reflects on his own fight or flight response.
Last summer, an attorney friend visiting from overseas asked if I would help her with a class project. She was taking Cross-Cultural Conflict and the professor instructed them to put themselves in an uncomfortable position for four hours and write about it. I suggested South Central, Los Angeles. She asked if I would go with her and I had no alternative except to say, Yes.
We kicked off our tour with a visit to Pepperdine University’s original campus at Vermont and 79th. As told in the new book, The Malibu Miracle, Pepperdine left that location not for the view from Malibu, but because national media coverage of the violence in South Central was discouraging parents from sending their kids to college there. In total, she and I spent about three hours touring this infamous but improving neighborhood.
As the end drew near for our real-world tour, I suggested we visit Skid Row. After driving around 5th, 6th, 7th and some of the neighboring alleyways which thousands of homeless call home, we ended up at the Flower District. I convinced my friend she needed some flowers for her ocean view dorm room at Pepperdine. We strolled from shop to shop. No purchase in hand, we decided to try the last few shops nearest the car. As we crossed the street, I saw a great view of the L.A. skyline and pulled out my iPhone to take a picture.
A homeless man yelled at us. I ignored him. He then ran towards us. Now, I would say he got in my face, but as I was about a foot taller, that would have been impossible. Nevertheless, he got as close as he could and started berating me for not asking the shop owners for permission to take pictures. The shop owners? “I am taking a picture of downtown,” I told him. “Downtown is over there,” he replied. “Yes, and I am taking a picture of it from here,” I snapped back.
My friend started tugging at my shirt. “Let’s go,” she said. “Not until I get this picture,” I told her. “Let’s go to the car,” she said with a forceful tone while, tugging me in the opposite direction of the car. “The car is the other way,” I reminded her with the most condescending voice I could muster.
As we started walking again, I hurriedly snapped the picture on my iPhone. The man got behind us. I insisted we patron the last shops regardless. She insisted we get out of there ASAP. This struggle went on for a minute or two. Realizing flowers, regardless how fresh and beautiful, would be bitter sweet following this exchange, I reluctantly escorted her back to the car.
So what is there to learn from this? Psychologists are correct, there are at least two responses to conflict: fight or flight. Yet, for better or worse, sometimes it seems that we actually do a little of both.
Dusty Bates Farned is a master’s student at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution.