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Fire with Fire

Kevin John Fong Posted by Kevin John Fong, Founder and Principal, Elemental Partners.

Kevin Fong is a facilitator & trainer in cultural and racial reconciliation, organizational systems and design. His mission is to clarify, align, and integrate systems to cultivate health and prosperity in the workplace.


Fire with Fire

I had an online conversation with a high school friend about the tragic events around the world this past week. In one message, he wrote -
"There's only one way to eliminate radicalism. Lock and load. Fight fire with fire."
"I have always found water to be more effective in fighting fire." I replied.

My friend acknowledged my response as a "point well taken.” We went on to ‘talk’ about religion, security, and the notion of fighting fire with fire. He closed by writing - "I know we are both after the same thing – harmony - but we differ on how to achieve it. Peace be with you and your journey."
"Same to you, my friend," I wrote. I felt appreciation, after the fact, that we differed but could still engage in a healthy and respectful exchange. I also reflected on the idea of fighting fire with fire.
I later called my friend Paul, a firefighter with over twenty years of experience, to ask him about the mechanics of firefighting. "Fires are sustained by four things - fuel, heat, oxygen, and a self-sustained chemical reaction," Paul said. "Take out any one of those elements, and you can extinguish the fire."
Paul explained that water was most effective in extinguishing fires because it takes away heat and oxygen. As to whether he knew of situations where “fighting fire with fire” worked he said only in very controlled circumstances.  "While controlled burns eliminate the fuel source, they can also raise the heat and make the situation worse. Fire feeds upon itself, creating this self-sustained chemical reaction. Once that happens, you've got a conflagration on your hands."
In situations where things get "heated," a word or glance can escalate tensions. Partisans raise their voices and sometimes stand up and posture. Add to that a thrown

object or a weapon or more people and you add fuel that leads to family and gang violence, regional conflicts or a climate of endless war.
Some say the world is on Fire, and many are fanning flames with calls for increased violence. Fight fire with fire, they say.  But isn't water a more effective agent?


In my work with The Five Elements, Water represents reflection, spirit, and understanding. What would happen if we used these tools to fight the fires of conflict? We know that inflamed rhetoric and amassed firearms can cause these heated self-sustained reactions that result in fear, isolation and ultimately hatred. But deep listening and relationship building can lead to increased compassion, trust, community, and ultimately love.

While I do not think that we can survive without any form of military defense, we need to strike a better balance. We can interrupt the cycle of violence and fire by investing in education, health, and diplomacy. My friend Pat, whose sons are deployed in the Middle East, said it best. "I'd feel much better if my boys were over there killing them with kindness and love than killing them with guns. That's the only way we're going to be able to win their hearts."
Thich Nhat Hanh said that peace is not something to take for granted. Each moment of each day, we have the choice to water seeds of peace or hatred in ourselves, our children, and our societies. If the events of the past show you a world on fire, consider invoking water through compassion, understanding, and deep listening. Water, the great equalizer, will bring us together in a way that nurtures prospects for us all. 


Questions for Reflection and Discussion 

1.  Talk about a time when you invoked Water characteristics of compassion, listening and understanding when you could have chosen to fan the flames.  

2.  Take a few minutes to view this video on the recent history of the crisis in Syria. Now that you have a sense of the complexities of the situation, what recommendations would you offer to add Water? 
3.  Thousands of Syrian refugees are preparing to be resettled in countries and  communities around the world. How would you feel if Syrian refugees moved into your neighborhood? How would you engage with family, friends, or neighbors who feel otherwise?      



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