Friday, November 16, 2007


"A little rudeness and disrespect can elevate a meaningless interaction to a battle of wills and add drama to an otherwise dull day."
--Calvin, in The Days are Just Packed: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection

I hate when people argue. It makes me scared. And I'm even more uncomfortable with simmering and unspoken conflict than I am with straight-out fights.

When I was a child and my parents argued, my mother would announce in the middle of a fight that she was going for a drive. An hour later, she'd be home pretending like no fight had ever happened.

I should have been reassured. I mean, everything was ALWAYS fine in an hour--with us joking over favorite meals.

But somehow, I have never gotten over the lesson I was taught that the only way to get past conflict is (in the best situations) by pretending nothing difficult ever happened--and the constant fear that this time might not be the best situation and it might lead to abandonment and the disintegration of relationships.

I don't do well at all pretending like nothing difficult ever happens. I need to go over issues until they lie dead on the doorstep and everybody has fully processed every last drop of emotion.

* * *

Conflict, when there is great respect between the participants in a disagreement, is perhaps the most productive force there is, one that can ultimately allow for not only resolution but profound growth.

I know that now. For years I hid my head in the sand if a disagreement seemed poised to bite, except when it happened in the relationships I was most sure of. But now I try really hard, and am actually sometimes successful, at making myself engage in issues that I know can lead to conflict--all in the hopes that any little battles will make all of us ultimately better people.

* * *

Today on one of my email lists I witnessed one member get slapped (figuratively) by another member whom I thought was being unfair. Thinking she was not necessarily aware of how her message was being received, I wrote her off list to explain my perspective. I was not intending to pick a fight.

She was horrified by my intervention, defensive about what she had said, angry that I wrote her off list, and sarcastic and dismissive about me. Quite a sting.

I'm off to crawl back in my sandpit for a little while.



Helen said...

I probably would have done the same thing...
But that's because I too have a really hard time pretending it didn't happen. I have to hash it all out... all the way out... till the horse is dead dead dead.
But then... I'm over it.

Here's hoping you can let go of the snipey offlist conflich, and get back to purloining letters and knitting happily.

(and why can't blogger let us put in an email address if we don't use a blogger account?)

Melinda said...

I didn't realize we were in the same email group, but after reading your post, I believe we might be. I chose the opposite approach, to comfort the figurative slapper(s), knowing that they were probably feeling awful as well. No response in return... I can only hope that it helped.

I almost left the group that week. And then I realized that there are hundreds of people out there who benefit from it, who need it, who are quietly listening. So I posted more in that week, hoping to offset the negativity. Don't know if it worked, but that was my hope.

A few days later someone posted on my own blog and separately on the list in a way that was meant to antagonize me. I almost responded, and then stopped. It was my own experiment to see if not answering the prod would make the conflict and my feelings end. The conflict ended, and my feelings turned from anger to pride because I had learned from others' mistakes.

Even if they have not learned from their actions, some of us have. And that's important!

I have found that in the heat of the moment, no one is rational, and mean hurtful things can be said. (I wonder if you mother left the arguments knowing that?) After the heat of anger subsides, sometimes we can and should address the root of the problem, so that anger doesn't turn to resentment. (Just a thought, but I wonder if your parents discussed the problem later on when they had some privacy?)

Walking away from the heat of the moment, and being able to talk about the roots of the problem - these can take longer for some than for others. When this woman wrote you, she was probably still in that heat of the moment. Despite the mean things she said to you, I bet some of it sunk in later.

Don't crawl in the sandbox - there are others out here that need you!

Carrie K said...

There are times witnessing conflicts like that that make me despair that there's any real chance of communication and peace. But then, cooler heads have to prevail, eventually, right? I hope.


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