I started this as a facebook status post but I realized I had far too much to say.
I hate conflict. Contrary to that totally misleading blog title above, conflict (or the thought of potential conflict) washes me over with a wave of physical illness.
Before I continue too much further, I should define what I mean by conflict, or maybe better describe some hypothetical scenarios that I would refer to as triggering "conflict feelings".
(These are of course only loosely based on reality. Any resemblance to real persons or situations is purely coincidental).
Conflict feelings arise when I have an encounter with someone (it may be a person I know and I'm in communication with or might be someone I've read about, heard speak or watched but have never met) who has in some way offended or disagreed with me on something I have a strong or fundamental belief about. This could be very obvious (such as someone stating, "Anyone who goes to church is obviously an idiot") or it could be more obscure or indirect, such as an implication that goes against how I see myself (like a coworker asking "Does it bug you to work at a messy desk?" even though you consider yourself fairly organized, most days). You may be surprised at how strongly you feel, even about seemingly insignificant topics.
Conflict feelings arise when we are CONFRONTED. Confrontation can happen in an overtly aggressive way, but by definition confrontation can also mean facing a difficult situation or being forced to consider something in a different way, sometimes through accusations.
I also find conflict feelings can arise through criticism or perceived judgement.
The feelings start as a bit of sickness in the gut, and then as I begin to think about why I feel wronged, offended or defensive, they often turn to anger, resent and a fierce need for justification.
I truly believe that the majority of everyday conflict (within homes, marriages, workplaces, malls, parking lots, etc) comes from a lack of communication or ineffective communication. I'm not so concerned here with where conflict comes from or how to prevent it in a global sense.
I want to talk instead about how I've started to expose myself to conflict, or things that give me that low gut discomfort, in order to lean in and deal with these feelings. These gut reactions.
I've had to start with people, topics and conversations that I am NOT directly involved in. Watching things like political debates, religious debates or speakers who are not from the same camp as I am. People who I don't directly have to answer to, but who elicit these gross feelings inside of me and make me want to defend what is right (well, in my mind).
If you still aren't sure what these feelings I'm talking about are, or if you think you do just fine at handling them, I'll challenge you to a fierce and potentially dangerous mission. Surf Facebook for a while, or go check out some internet forums on something you are passionate about.
Parenting. Politics. Religion. Animal abuse. Human rights. Immigration. Terrorism. The government. Vaccinations. Assisted suicide. Donald Trump. (sorry did I let that last one sneak in there??)
For some of you, just reading this list already has your mental reel running full speed with all of your opinions, convictions and defenses.
Good. That's really good.
Now sit with those feelings for a second. Breathe really deeply and try to bring up more of those feelings (make sure there are no sharp objects or potential victims within your reach!).
Start to think deeper about WHY you are so fired up. Why does it matter to you? Why do you think you are right?
I've started writing a lot. I write down everything. When I start to experience these feelings bubbling up and I am asking myself the above questions, I will write down what I'm discovering.
Here's an example ...
I was out getting groceries a few weeks ago when I returned to my van to put the groceries in it and leave. There was a man in his car beside me who, after I sat down to start the van, motioned for me to roll down my window. I did, and he proceeded to tear a strip off me for parking too close to his car. He ranted that I was inconsiderate and didn't think about how much room he might need to open his door and get in. This lasted about 2 minutes. I said I was very sorry and drove away.
Then, when I was out of sight, I slung a whole string of profanities his way. Then I cried.
Instead of brewing like I normally would I decided to do an experiment. So I pulled over and I wrote. Here is what I came up with (I apologize for the profanities but this is the real deal) :
That fucking ass. Who does he think he is? Shit its not like everyone else there wasn't parked close. Uggghhh ... I hate mean people. Did he have to be so angry. It's not like I meant to inconvenience or annoy him.
I am ALWAYS helpful. I guess that's it. I always try to go out of my way to be kind and helpful. I am so offended he would think I was just "one of those" snotty or inconsiderate people. My feelings are hurt. I wanted to tell him ... I'M NOT LIKE THAT. I try so hard to help people out and it feels like you just get crapped on for it.
Maybe he is very sad and lonely. It probably had nothing to do with me. If I was a little less insecure I could have made it about him, his struggle. Maybe I could have asked him if there was any way I could help him? Maybe I could have asked him a question? Whatever it's too late now.
I want everyone to make generous assumptions about me and not just assume I am a delinquent or bad person. It is SO FRUSTRATING when people just assume something negative about my intentions. I try SO HARD to keep people happy.
And that is often a source of my frustration. The people-pleaser in me. That's really what it comes down to. Okay well now I can at least breathe and I'm not so angry.
And that was it.
I didn't think of it much after that, and I only remembered it again when writing this blog. In the past, I would have stewed and brewed, posted a ranting facebook post re-iterating the scenario in great detail and defending my position.
But something funny happens when you lean into your feelings and dig down to the root of where they come from. When you turn them over and shine some light into the dark places.
They cool. They dissolve. They may not go away entirely but they'll become a shadow of their former, destructive selves.
It's not stuffing your feelings down and it's not just being resolute and self-defended. It's allowing yourself to fully feel everything, then examine it and determine the more deep and resounding truths hidden there. The truths about yourself, your tendencies, your hurts and your challenges.
At the end of the day we all want to be happier, and not allowing conflict to get you upset or riled up will inevitably lead to more peace and joy.
So this is why I now say I love conflict. Not is a sadistic, argumentative way. In an experimental way.
I watch debates, listen to political leaders and discuss hot topics in a whole new way now. I am interested and intrigued to see the feelings and reactions that arise. I examine them, pick them apart and validate them when appropriate.
And then I let them go.
Sometimes it's great. Sometimes it's a disaster. But either way, I am far less a victim of these situations and my own emotions than I once was.
I haven't yet mastered this art of reflection and leaning in when it comes to things closer to home. I am still extremely defensive when my feelings are hurt and I remain angry and disgusted when I encounter passive-aggression. But it's getting better.
It takes courage and commitment to resist our primal, knee-jerk reactions to conflict. I think it's something we'll work on for the entirety of our lives. It's a commitment I'm willing to make because I think we live in a world full of dangerous and damaging conflict. Folks are searching and yearning for kindness, compassion and understanding. And we can't give out what we don't have.
Love and blessings to you in your own experimental lives. May you face your conflicts with a deeper understanding and more productive reflection.
Bravely forth my heroic friends,