How Can Disagreement Get Out of Hand?

Dear Readers,

During the course of human evolution, time and again people have taken sides against each other for any number of reasons. Property lines. Religious beliefs. Election options. You name it. Disagreeing seems to be a natural – and therefore fairly common – aspect of human behavior. Thankfully, most disagreements can be settled with a little logic or reason, perhaps some legal intervention, and hopefully a healthy dose of kindness. 

But what’s gone wrong when reason fails us and our disagreements turn violent? Have we suddenly become “uncivilized?” Have we temporarily lost our minds? Are our actions based on a specific bias such as nationality, race, religion, or even sports team allegiance? Who could hate someone enough to take harmful action against them? And is this the kind of thing that leads to wars, which some might argue are just nationalized hatred?

The answers to these questions are as complex as humanity itself. One can spend a lifetime trying to understand the human personality. But for those of you who have asked if the Five Elements model might offer a degree of understanding regarding how people can hate each other enough to cause harm, I would like to offer the following thoughts.

The Five Elements model allows us to categorize people into five specific personality groups based on key factors such as life focus, needs, priorities, vulnerabilities, etc. This same model contains not only personality information, but also key relationship dynamics between each of the five different personalities. And it’s the relationship information that’s important here because harmful crimes are often predicated on how one person (or groups of people) relate to other people, specifically people whom they dislike or are biased against.

For those of you less familiar with the five elemental personalities, they are defined by their differences across a wide variety of topics, but their basic priorities can be summarized as follows: 

  • Water personalities tend to focus on exploring inner wisdom and philosophy. They champion deep thought. Out of balance, they can become almost reclusive.
  • Wood personalities tend to focus on success and accomplishment in the physical world. They champion fairness. Out of balance, they can become angry and abusive.
  • Fire personalities tend to focus on experiencing and enjoying life. They champion celebration and fun. Out of balance, they can become panicked and hysterical.
  • Earth personalities tend to focus on relationships with family and friends. They champion lasting connections. Out of balance, they become codependent and timid.
  • Metal personalities tend to focus on acquiring and sharing wisdom. They champion being right. Out of balance, they can become erudite and dismissive.

(If this interests you, more information about each of the Five Elements personalities, how they interact, and what your elemental personality might be can be found on my website:

In truth, any one of the five elemental personalities could be capable of committing a crime if something they value is threatened. But an act involving property destruction or physically harming someone would be difficult for several of these personality types. For example, primary Earth personalities are usually gentle people who care about helping others, not hurting them, so intentionally harming someone would be unthinkable. Fire people would also be unlikely to commit harmful acts against others because their upbeat, gregarious personality usually makes them a friend to all. And Water personalities would be unlikely to engage with others in this manner because they live most of life in their heads. The two elemental personalities most likely to take negative physical action against a fellow human or their property would be the Wood and Metal personalities, but for very different reasons. 

Metal people firmly embrace the right and wrong of everything, so a deep sense of righteous indignation could motivate them to leave their ivory tower and take on a worthy opponent. The people who most often create this reaction in Metal personalities are Wood personalities. We see this in the fact that Metal and Wood relate to each other in the Five Elements model via a dynamic that is called the Controlling Cycle. For the sake of maintaining balance, it is the Metal personality’s “job” to keep Wood people in line. Based on their strong need to defend what’s right, a Metal person could resort to violence if motivated by a strong enough need to maintain control. 

Wood personalities are driven by a strong desire to accomplish or acquire things, and to defend the underdog, so pushed to the wall they could take action against someone they believe stands in their way. And not surprisingly, the people most likely to create this reaction in Wood people are Metal people. Once again, this references the fact that Metal and Wood relate to each other via the Controlling Cycle of the model. In a fit of rage, Wood people could commit a violent crime if fueled by enough frustration at being held back or in defense of a perceived injustice. 

Please bear in mind that I’m in no way suggesting that the world’s criminals are all Metal or Wood personalities. Far from it. Primary Earth, Fire, or Water personalities can easily cause harm if they have a strong secondary elemental personality in either Wood or Metal. But in our current culture where success, acclaim, identity, and possessions deeply affect our sense of self, I believe these are the two elemental personalities most likely to slip down the rabbit hole of undesirable behavior. Especially if they are involved in or motivated by something in the culture that reinforces the need to “win,” whether in an intellectual or success-based arena. 

Finally, it’s important to remember that we each have all five of the elemental energies in our personality make up. That means we all have Metal and Wood energy in us. They may not be our primary elemental personality, or even our secondary, but they are there and can be triggered during times of stress. If we work to keep these two energies balanced in ourselves, we will ensure that we do not unintentionally contribute to things getting out of hand. And an easy way to help keep these two personality energies balanced is to do the following exercise daily:

  • For balancing Wood energy: Place your thumbs on the outside edges of your eyes while resting your fingertips across your forehead. Hold this position for 1 to 2 minutes, breathing normally. 
  • For balancing Metal energy: Rest the palm of your left hand on the very top of your head and place the palm of your right hand across your forehead. Hold this position for 1 to 2 minutes, breathing normally.

These are difficult times for many. I pray that we all find ways to become part of the solutions, rather than inadvertently contributing to the problems. 



2 thoughts on “How Can Disagreement Get Out of Hand?

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