There’s a concept about human confrontation that I learned many years ago from a book by Marc ‘Animal’ McYoung.
He talked about something called ‘woofing’, and understanding this has kept me out of quite a few fights (including one that I’ll tell you about later in this email).
The idea of woofing goes like this…
If two dogs are having a dispute then they don’t usually jump straight into an all-out fight. First they try to intimidate the other male by flexing, growling, puffing up all their fur. Basically doing anything they can to make themselves look bigger, meaner and scarier.
During this display one of the two males will often decide, “Holy crap, I’m going to get my ass kicked, I better get out of here.”
But they can’t just run away. They have to worry about their social status and what every other dog watching is going to think. So as they back away they keep on acting tough. They snarl, they growl, and they woof.
They’re sending out the message, “Hey, I’m not really afraid… I could totally kick his ass if I wanted to… Yeah…. It’s just that I’m choosing not to do so at this time”.
This ‘woofing’ is essentially a face-saving maneuver.
Here’s the thing though…
If the winner dog keeps pressuring the loser dog, then instead of being able to back down in a face-saving manner he’ll have no chance but to launch an attack against the winner, even if the other guy is bigger and stronger.
And if a real fight happens then quite likely both dogs will get hurt.
Now maybe you could argue that this is a vast oversimplifaction of canine hierarchical confrontation, but I’ve seen woofing many, many times in the human world.
Like on one of my recent trips to Mexico, for example…
It was late at night, my kids were sleeping, and I was working on my iPad in the lobby of a small hotel on Isla Mujeres near Cancun.
A drunk tourist and his drunk girlfriend wobbled into the hotel lobby and loudly demanded that the hotel clerk call them a taxi.
In broken English the Mexican clerk tried to explain to them that the taxi company was closed, and that they should go out to the road and flag down a cab by hand.
The drunk tourist now unleashed a torrent of abuse on the poor hotel clerk (who was, of course, significantly smaller than the large, muscular tourist).
“What do you mean you can’t get me a f***ing cab? What sort of stupid s*** is this? This is a stupid f***ing hotel and this is stupid f***king Mexico!”
That sort of stuff…
At that point I intervened verbally. Still sitting on the couch, in a reasonably calm tone of voice I told him that getting a cab at the road wasn’t actually a very big deal and that there were multiple taxis passing by every minute.
He swiveled. He bristled. His eyes slowly focussed on me.
“Who the f***ing f** are you, you f***ing a**hole?!?”, he growled. “Did I ask for your f***ing opinion?!”
And then he started coming towards me.
I stood up to deal with the threat, mentally evaluating my options…
My main concern at this point was not hurting or killing him, because I really didn’t fancy ending up in a Mexican jail with nobody left to take care of my kids in a foreign country.
(That’s why my first plan – to punch him flush in the throat – got put on the back burner for the moment.)
After another second of thinking about it I had decided that my best plan was to armdrag this idiot, keep him between his girlfriend and I, and quickly choke him out.
Fortunately it never came to that.
This dude was a bully, and most bullies only pick on people they think they can frighten and dominate physically.
He quickly saw that I wasn’t afraid of him. And also he realised that he’d misjudged my size on the couch; once I stood up he could see that I was an inch or two taller than him.
Anyway the wheels turned in his drunken mind, and he somehow reached the conclusion that I was more trouble than it was worth.
Boom, he came to a halt. He stood in the middle of the lobby but his mouth kept right on going, “F*** you f***ing motherf***ker. Don’t speak when you ain’t been spoken to the next time or I’m going to kick your f***king ass…” and so on.
Then something funny happened…
He didn’t stop talking, threatening me with severe asskickings, but he had ever-so-slowly went into reverse and was now slowly backing out of the hotel.
Soon he was threatening me from the doorway through which he’d entered earlier…
Next he was even further away, yelling at me from the courtyard…
And then he was gone in the night (hopefully to be run over by a Mexican taxi if there is any justice in this world).
I hope you can now see what was going on. He had had just enough sense left in his drunken brain to realise that getting into a brawl with me was dangerous and probably not a good idea.
However he had to woof in order to preserve his sense of manhood and his status in the eyes of his woman.
If I hadn’t let him back down – had I forced the issue – then it very likely would have ended in a fight.
I’m fairly confident that I would have won that confrontation, but you never know for sure. Every streetfight is a dangerous situation where weird things can affect the results in random ways.
For example, what if I’d knocked him out with a hard shot to the temple but then he shattered his skull on the marble floor? Don’t fool yourself – death by KO happens all the time and people go to prison for it.
Knocking someone out but ending up in jail afterwards… Talk about winning the battle but losing the war.
Understanding that this idiot was just woofing helped me stay calm during the second half of that encounter. It allowed me to stand there, let him disengage, and not take any of his unending stream of profanity personally.
Recognise woofing for what it is: a mostly harmless status-preservation mechanism for the loser of an encounter.
Anytime a potential attacker wants to run away while continuing to run his mouth, just let him go.
You’ve already won. Your only job now is to not rub his nose in his loss.
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