I recently had a most heated spat over a very small misunderstanding. After some personal reflection, I began to analyze what seemed to happen during the interchange. To me, it appeared that we were both assuming we knew what the other person’s motivations were, and reacting on our assumptions. As we are both very stubborn in our less savory moments, we just rolled with our own stories about what we thought was true. We both failed at listening to the other person, neither of us wanted to give up our own side of the story, and we brought up all sorts of irrelevant information to complicate and ad fuel to the fire. We fervently psychoanalyzed the darkest parts of the other and told the other person how the other person thought and felt and how wrong that was. No matter how the other protested our projections and assumptions, we held steadfast to what we “knew” the other person was thinking and feeling as if our lives depended on it. It was a battle of the wills, and there would be no survivors.
Mostly we just made each other feel crazy, bulldozed and misunderstood. After laboring over the over weaning list of topics for hours we were still arguing about who was more at fault. I, of course refused until my dying day, to accept any more than 50% of the problem. “Not 51%, not 50.0001%, not one nano-percent over 50%!!!” I said, to which I got absolutely nowhere and ended up giving myself a time out. Dr. Phil would have been appalled.
“Real mature” I say to myself as I sit here thinking about how stupid it all sounds. I know better, and I know how to fight fair, but sometimes I get lazy and let my childish stubbornness take over. I will fight to the bitter end to defend what I think is right, and so will the other person. Unfortunately, most of the time we are both a little bit off, which makes the whole ordeal wretchedly pointless.
And yet, I don’t feel mad here with a few miles and minutes between us. We don’t see the situation the same way, we have different points of view and that is okay. We may never see eye to eye on this one, but maybe we aren’t supposed to. We have different brains, different pasts, and witnessed the argument from different angles. The problem isn’t that we don’t agree on what happened. The problem is that we cannot accept two views at the same time as both true. We turn it into “It’s either this or that, black or white, good or bad, your fault or mine”.
Now let’s think about some other global disagreements and wars. Most of us pick sides and decide who is the “good” and who is the “bad” side (in this country, patriotism has come to mean siding with the government’s decisions without question), but is it really that simple? What if the “bad” side has a good point? What if the “good” side is off base? I guess that would mean that we are still responsible for holding ourselves, our government and our country in check-that there is no hero party who can save us. It would mean that we have to look at ourselves and look at where we are going wrong instead of waiting for everyone else to behave to our expectations.
I think about countries that our country has gone to war with. I think about the devastation of the soldiers that go and die or are wounded. I think about the soldiers who die on the other side, who think that they are just as right as we think that we are. Somehow it starts with a belief that your side is 100% right, ignites with aggressive behavior, that aggression feeds more aggression and rage and so the cycle continues. Two sides both wanting to be heroes, two sides growing to hate each other through each other’s actions.
It’s really, really sad and has a ring of familiarity with even our most ordinary disagreements. Yes, something that the other side is doing is likely off-putting to you. The thing is, how could the other side just as fervently fight for their side if there wasn’t a problem that needed to be fixed on YOUR side? I am not saying that it is not necessary to stick up for your side, but I am saying it’s worth looking into the other side of the story before you start fighting.
Think about political parties that we are always going back and forth between. We choose who the “good” party is based on a select few political agendas and turn the opposing party into the enemy based on a few of their political agendas or personal problems. The problem is that all individuals, political parties, religions and countries have their own blind spots. Whenever humans are involved, there is a margin of error as interpretations of individual, spiritual and world events vary widely from person to person. Without allowing all of the sides to complete the picture, how can we as a society or as individuals truly grow? How will anything worthwhile ever get done?
There are things that humans do that are entirely uncalled for, but looking a little deeper into their lives, the story broadens. The person yelling in the fast food line may have had a series of frustrations dump on them for the past week. The guy who walked out of the grocery store trying to steal a cartful of groceries may have a hungry family, can’t afford food and is too proud to visit the food bank. Even the molester in the next town was likely molested themselves and was subconsciously programmed to act out the abuse. Yes, what they are doing is wrong, and yet their story exists. It is part of the big picture, no matter how much we would like to reject them. Part of growing is understanding your own story line and knowing that your story line (as the other guy’s story line) is limited to your own experiences and interpretations.
Am I really that lofty to believe that I do not judge anyone? Ha! I find myself tooting my own horn just like anybody else (obviously from the above sample). But ultimately, I do feel a calling that I need to listen more and respect the stories of others that are seemingly not compatible with my own. If I disagree on every fundamental level about the very core of what another person stands for, part of my growing into a better person is respecting them as a part of a bigger picture that I have yet to understand.
As Lao Tzu said “See the turmoil of beings, but contemplate their return”. It would be nice if we could all bury the hatchet and focus on something more interesting, like how magnificently beautiful a caterpillar is as it stretches itself across a leaf, or how the clouds are always reshaping themselves against a backdrop of ever changing light. But for now, in contrast to my poor former example, here are some rules for fighting fair…
1. Don’t talk while hungry, sick or tired.
2. When stating your case, speak plainly about your own experience.
a.) Focus on what happened from your perspective with the attitude that you may be wrong,
b.) Tell the other person what the situation or comment seems to mean to you, again with the attitude that you may be wrong,
c.) Ask for clarification.
3. Stop condescending, mocking, patronizing or talking down to the other person. Stop playing the victim.
4. Don’t ignore, dissociate, invalidate, or undermine the other person’s feelings, even if you don’t understand them. Just because you don’t understand doesn’t mean that they don’t have good reason for their feelings.
5. Be respectful and kind, no matter how out of line the other person is acting. Take a time out if necessary and give the other person an idea of when you will be back.
6. Both parties apologize for their part of the problem.
7. Repeat back what the other person said in a respectful manner after listening carefully. Allow the other person to clarify, if necessary, so you get it right from their perspective.
8. If one or more parties is not following the rules, a time out will be called until both parties review the rules, clarify what they want and are calm enough to discuss the matter respectfully.
9. If you would like to, you can fill out a complaint form before returning to the argument. Answer these 5 questions to clarify the situation and what you need to resolve it. a) What happened from my perspective? b) What does the situation mean to me? c) Other possible explanations besides my interpretation? d) What can I own up to and/or change? e) What am I specifically hoping to get out of this conversation? (ie validation, a certain boundary, an apology etc).
There it is from one faulty human to another. If anyone has any other great fair fighting rules, feel free to comment. Peace 🙂