Hope I don’t jinx myself with the next sentence. I’ve just passed through a period of above average interpersonal conflict. The wife, the daughter, everyone has been conspiring against me.
A lot of our behavior is explained by insecurities rooted in our past. As a result of our insecurities, we get sideways when other people dare think and act differently than us. Our tendency is to try to change the way they think and act. They resist. We persist. The result. Interpersonal conflict.
At a recent conference I met an insightful woman who was a professional mediator. She said something in passing that I found rather profound. “If we can normalize conflict, we can respond to it instead of react to it.” If intimacy and conflict are inseparable, as I believe they are, why do we react so poorly to conflict rather than constructively respond to it?
When we think of conflict as a weakness, as a sign of failure, and as something to be avoided at all costs, we get caught off-guard by it. That makes the successful resolution of it less likely. When we assiduously avoid conflict, natural low-level resentments build and become corrosive.
When we respond to conflict we slow things down enough to think and we’re mindful of treating the other person the way we want to be treated. We may get very emotional and talk animatedly, but we do so knowing a resolution is going to require respectful give and take. Instead of just waiting for the other person to stop talking long enough to begin arguing a point, we truly listen, and are mindful of the other person’s feelings.
When we react to conflict, we lose control of our emotions, sometimes end up shouting past one another, quit caring as much about the other person’s feelings, and ultimately say hurtful things which makes resolution much more difficult. Respond—gradual progress towards resolution. React—things spiral downwards.
It would be nice if there were Harry Potter-like wands that we could use on one another to make us more accepting of ourselves and more secure. Then maybe we’d be freed from the grip of wanting to change others to think and act more like us. By truly accepting ourselves, maybe we could learn to accept others—even their different politics, values, personalities, and life goals.