I hate conflict. I avoid it at all costs. Honestly, conflict sends me into some of my most insecure places – so I would rather not deal with it.
I don’t think I’m alone in that.
This, I’ve learned, isn’t healthy. I remember back when we were first married and learning to live with each other. We had to get used to each others habits and tendencies. There were things that I did that I thought were so normal – until I got married – and he didn’t think those things were normal. The whole toothpaste thing – I squeeze from the middle and he squeezes from the bottom. Let’s just say we don’t share toothpaste anymore. We had more conflict back then – maybe because we had more energy before kids – maybe because we were so new at learning to live alongside someone so different. While we were very similar, we brought with us our own narratives and baggage – things that were never brought into question until we had to share space. Conflict was inevitable.
We both learned a lot about fighting fair in those early days – and some days we need to revisit those “rules”. One thing I remember that was really helpful was learning to deal with one issue at a time. It didn’t mean that the other issues weren’t important or that we wouldn’t get around to dealing with them. It just meant that you can only solve one issue at a time.
Our arguments used to go like this:
“Honey, did you use my toothpaste?”
“Well, you squeezed from the middle. I hate that.”
“Oh yeah, well, YOU left your shoes in the middle of the floor. I hate THAT.”
“Oh yeah, well, YOU didn’t put the toilet paper back on the holder.”
“Oh yeah, well YOU ALWAYS leave the toilet seat up!”
“Oh yeah, well YOU ALWAYS leave all your junk on the counter and I can’t get to any of my stuff.”
“Oh yeah, well, maybe you don’t love me if you can’t deal with my stuff! Maybe you really just resent me and don’t really want to be married to me.”
I might be exaggerating. A little. And believe me, it was usually me who sent the conversation totally in the wrong direction. We could have saved a lot of heartache had we dealt with the first issue at hand. The toothpaste. Sure, we would have eventually gotten around to the toilet paper, but maybe dealing with one issue at a time would help make working through the other issues less, well, dramatic.
When you try to dump a bunch of things into an argument – or even a discussion – it’s impossible to come to a resolution.
There’s a lot of conflict out there these days. It’s suffocating. I really believe that most people are just trying to make sense of it all. We’re all trying to live with each other in new ways. With social media and the ease to disagree from behind a screen, we’re like newlyweds that don’t know how to fight fair. There are no ground rules and we’re all screaming over each other so our voices will be heard – when, in reality, it’s impossible to really hear anything at all.
Several weeks ago I shared a sermon at church about David and Goliath. Goliath has always been described as a terrible guy (and maybe, rightfully so). What isn’t normally talked about is how Goliath grew up with a narrative of fear toward the people of Israel. It never would have crossed his mind that he would be the “bad guy” in the story because, in his mind, it was normal to act this way. He would have felt justified in his actions. It never would have been a consideration for him to look in the mirror (if they had those back then) and do some soul searching. He didn’t have to. He knew he was right.
As I worked through that sermon, I realized that there have been many times in my own life that I have been Goliath. I let false narratives in my own life affect how I treated other people. I let my fears guide my actions. I didn’t fight fair because I was right, and I knew I was right. Too many times, I have failed to look in the mirror and deal with the issue at hand. The issue of me.
It’s easier to try to protect myself.
It’s easier to point the fingers at where others have screwed up.
It’s easier to blame someone else.
It’s super hard to be vulnerable.
It’s super hard to look at my own mistakes.
It’s super hard to realize that maybe I wasn’t as right as I thought I was.
I want to be brave enough to accept responsibility for the issue of me. Sure, there are contributing factors and circumstances that affect me, but I am ultimately responsible for me. I’m responsible to seek to understand before trying to be understood. I’m responsible for listening before reacting. I’m responsible for giving others the benefit of the doubt – because they’re just doing the best they know how.
We have to share this space called Earth. And we all have to somehow do our part to make it better for everyone. But it starts with me. If you are reading this and you instinctively think, “wow, so and so really needs to read this so he/she can take responsibility for his/her actions” – you might need to start over. Clearly, I’ll be doing the same.
For helpful information on how to “fight fair” go to https://cmhc.utexas.edu/fightingfair.html.