The Choices We Have in a Conflict
By Melissa K. Vassar-Belloso
Choices are something we face every single day as people and among those we have to make a lot of them in the midst of interactions with others. This unfortunately means that we can expect some level of personal conflicts with others. Often in emotional conflicts and disagreements, we default to the easiest or most self-serving options but today I’d like to discuss the choices that are harder to look at in a conflict and less popular as choices
To hold a grudge or to learn to forgive is a choice we have that has dire consequences. Many people hold grudges out of pride and to some degree that makes sense. Humans hold pride as some sort of holy grail, but it’s important to remember the holy grail was just a cup at the end of the day. When we choose to hold a grudge we essentially down a poison without realizing it. We internalize,ruminate and essentially hurt ourselves by sacrificing time,energy and sometimes even health for the sake of holding onto something that is a small snapshot in a potentially large photo album called life. Grudges hurt us more than the people we hold them against most of the time and cause a level of anger and stress over long periods that can literally shave time off your lifespan and significantly reduce quality of life.
I think that primarily the issue is that we see forgiveness as being weak or handing over a victory. In reality forgiveness is a step of cleansing,acceptance,growth and especially maturity. You aren’t losing ground,dignity or power when you forgive someone. You aren’t losing, because life isn’t really a competition if you’re an emotionally mature and wise person. Forgiveness isn’t the same as accepting blame. It’s a sign of respect and moving on with your life. People are going to slight you throughout your life and regardless of whether that is intentional or or not, you only do yourself a detriment carrying every transgression in your life around like a poorly packed handbag. The next time you have a conflict, choose to grow and choose to live. Accept and learn from your negative experiences and use them to fuel a better future instead of tying them around your ankle like a ball and chain and slowing yourself down.
To generalize or to see past a label is a choice reflective of a common roadblock in how we see conflicts in modern society. It’s often easy to make snap judgments when we’re seeing someone as a label or trait instead of as a human being. Yes, people are made up of traits but remember that the sum of a person’s traits is what matters. All people are a mixture of good and bad but if you cherry pick the traits you look at to get to where you are, that will be an ill-informed decision. Instead of basing your opinion of a person on what gender,color,religion,sexual orientation or even occupational title they hold try looking at them as a person. Try calling them by their name. Try looking at the sum of the person they are. Rainbows have many colors of stripes and what makes it a rainbow is all of those stripes and not just the red or the blue. Never use stereotypes or generalizations as fact and take the time to create proper context. Instead of focusing on what a person is, you might find that you have a drastic change of opinion when you instead focus on who they are.
To listen or to plot our next move is a choice reflective of a common issue that can drastically distort our interactions. Listening is a skill and that’s an easy thing to forget. To properly respond in any given situation we have to listen. This means that if you’re in your head,distracted or focusing on anything other than what the person across from you is saying that you aren’t listening and your response is ill-informed. Before you judge or condemn, make sure you actually listened. When someone is taking their turn to talk, you should be listening.
The biggest hurdle to listening that often when we are in a conflict we are heavily focused on being heard. The perception or rather the fear of not being heard actually stems from personal insecurities and often has nothing to do with other people. Sometimes we hyper-focus on the idea of being heard over the novel idea of listening because of trauma,low self-esteem or even something as simple as an unhealthy focus on a large perception society imposes. For instance, if you grow up in a household where you are often invalidated, you may carry the mindset that when you become an adult you’ll make up for it by being loud,being heard and disregarding the other person in an interaction. If you are given a heavy societal implication that being in a certain demographic gives you less of a voice or incorrectly assume being in a demographic defines a trait about you, you may take on a burden that isn’t really there and assume you need to be louder and more selfish in an interaction to fill an invisible gap.
An example of this might be assuming you need to be more forceful about your opinions or putting an unbalanced weight on opinions of you and those around you based on assumption that your gender,race or some arbitrary trait has taken something away from you or automatically limits your opinion. While this may be true in some cases, it’s more of an exception than a rule. You shouldn’t automatically assume every person around you cares about traits or puts huge stock in stereotypes. Implied oppression is a huge source of creating misconceptions and can often lead us trying to preempt the oppression instead of gaining something from having our ears open in an encounter. We assume the other person is going to oppress us and therefore make a determination to literally or figuratively plug our ears to what the person has to say.
Everyone has a right to be heard. You don’t have agree with that but you should at the very least respect that. Sometimes you will hear things that you don’t like,disagree with or otherwise don’t want to hear. Remember that while you want to be heard and have that right, everyone else around you is in that same boat. Focus on being heard when it’s your turn to talk and focus on being reasonable and respectful when it’s someone else’s turn by listening.
To compromise or to be right is often one of the harder choices to make. Being right is considered the ultimate goal for a lot of people in a conflict because we obviously don’t like the alternative that we’re losing and are by association a loser. But like forgiveness, compromise is often very incorrectly perceived in our society. Compromise can be seen as settling and to some is technically synonymous with losing. In reality, compromise is a gesture of maturity and respect. It means we’ve taken the time to listen to and acknowledge the other person’s viewpoints and would rather seek a middle-ground so both parties can walk away with something. Respecting a person’s viewpoint isn’t the same as agreeing with it or conceding your own views. It’s a sign that you’re enough of an adult to realize that opposing viewpoints are roaming the wild and you don’t need to shoot all of them down like your Oregon Trail party ran out of food.
Different isn’t bad or evil. It’s just different. Likewise, having opinions isn’t a competition. People are allowed to disagree with you and ultimately they have as much a right to their opinions as you do to yours. The kicker about choosing to compromise is realizing that you can do that and still be right. You aren’t giving up or giving in. Remember that next time you have a conflict, compromise isn’t losing. It just means you’re sharing a win and possibly learning something because you can both walk away with your opinions and dignity intact.
To feel proud or to feel humble is really nothing more than the difference between memorizing and learning. What I mean by that is that in the same way memorizing is a temporary fix and learning something keeps it with us,pride is a buzz and humility is a chance for personal growth. Being willing to be wrong or just be humble in a situation means we have the ability to be open-minded,respectful and mature. It means we can appreciate that other people can have good ideas and valid opinions. It also means that we’re capable of change. Humility isn’t a sign of weakness. It takes strength and honesty to be humble. Humility is a skill that will put you on a path you really can be proud of,not for a passing moment but for a lifetime.
Pride on the other hand usually requires putting another person down. In order to be a winner and bathe in the pride that comes with 100% victory, you have to discount the value of another human being in the process. Since your goal is winning, you probably won’t absorb anything from the incident and have actually gained nothing. You’ll be the same person you were before and eventually all you’ll really have is the horror of looking down and counting the piles of bodies you’ve climbed over to get there and the opportunities you threw out along the way. When we focus on long-term benefit with substance over short-term bursts of frivolous success, we actually get a lot more out of life and achieve the fullness of happiness and confidence as opposed to the emptiness of pride.
To stay stagnant or to learn is something that can be essentially boiled down to how you use fertilizer. Fertilizer can either be a pile of shit or the thing that helps us grow a garden. That choice is ultimately up to you as a person. There are a lot of ways we can unintentionally freeze ourselves in place by making poor choices. These poor choices can be resistance to change,resistance to new or alternate viewpoints or even refusal to take personal responsibility. Don’t be afraid to use conflict to incite personal change. Make an effort to walk away as a better person and learn from a situation instead of being bitter and digging your heels in.
To be smart or to be wise can a tough one for some people. It may appear to be an issue of semantics but as a reality there is a huge difference between being smart and being wise. Anyone can be smart but not all smart people utilize common sense and maturity. Wisdom however is more indicative that we have reached a higher plane. We aren’t just booksmart but also people smart, emotionally smart and established as a person in the areas that matter most. Wise is more than spouting facts. It’s connecting to the world and people around you. It’s being able to debate instead of argue. It’s securing your viewpoints without damaging another person’s. It’s being heard without yelling. It’s having the versatility to be open-minded and willing to learn and change when necessary. It’s nice to be smart but it’s ambitious to be wise.
Wise minds are rational but loving,confident but not dominating and persevering but reasonable. But perhaps most of all, wisdom is imperfect. When we’re truly wise we know our place in the world and we have the strength,maturity and humility to realize that place is not at the peak of the mountain, but rather on the sides and ever-ascending with occasional slips back down to a previous ledge. Key to handling conflict better is not settling for being smart and aspiring to be wise.
To ignore or to validate is a choice that can somewhat tie in to whether we listen or whether we need to be heard.Validation is a very important thing to our psychological health. More important than whether we are right or wrong is the mental satisfaction of having our thoughts and feelings acknowledged. This is essentially the void that validation fills. What this means is that when we invalidate others, we are actually doing the psychological equivalent of beating or stabbing them. We imply that their thoughts,feelings and ultimately their being doesn’t matter.
When we choose to ignore,insult,or invalidate the other person in a conflict, it’s sort of like asking for a fair fight but stabbing them when they’re back is turned. Invalidation is no small crime either. Invalidation can cause lifelong psychological damage to people when done repeatedly. It can lead to self-esteem issues, relationship issues and even more severe conditions like PTSD and suicidal tendencies. Invalidation over time will seep in and not only make the person doubt the value of their thoughts and feelings but also their value as a person.
In the same way that we want to be heard and respected and the same way we hold our thoughts and feelings in high regard, it can go a long way to realize everyone wants and has a right to that. No one is really winning with invalidation. You may seemingly win by being louder and dumping on the other person but all you’ve ultimately really done is puff your chest out and become an abusive bully. Remember that validation isn’t agreement or surrender. Validation is a sign of respect. When we validate another person, it’s a sign that we respect that they’re a human being with thoughts and feelings that matter. Regardless of where you stand with another person, cradle their thoughts and feelings in the same way you would want your own to be treated with care. You never want to be the reason someone loses themselves and just because you don’t see blood doesn’t mean you haven’t caused a wound.
To be honest or to be innocent is a choice that mainly revolves around maturity and personal responsibility. If we’re honest in most situations, the fault lies between all the people involved in a conflict,including you. This is where the personal responsibility comes in. If our focus is coming out on top or being seen as an innocent or victim in a conflict, we’re more likely to pass the buck on parts of a situation that we may be equally responsible for. It’s very true that it takes two to tango and what that saying means is that ultimately we are both right and wrong in any given situation. We bring things to the table in a relationship and when things go well we want to acknowledge that’s the case. When conflicts arise however, it’s very easy to only see the things on the table owned by the other person or to shine a nicer light on just the things we own on that table that support our case.
Personal responsibility and maturity go hand-in-hand. If we aren’t mature, we can’t see the value in holding ourselves accountable for things. This results in effectively tampering with the evidence in the conflicts in our lives so we look good and the other person looks bad. This often requires at least partial dishonesty and denial to maintain and often gets messy over time.
It might surprise you, but honesty is actually a huge factor toward our stress levels in life. Lies cause stress because we have to memorize and maintain them while the truth is just the truth. If you’re telling the truth you never have the burden of making sure you tell the right story each time. You never have to juggle facts. You never have to backtrack. Most of all if you get called out to provide proof for something you aren’t backed in a corner.
When we lie we also lose credibility and you may think it has to be a big lie but that’s not always the case. Consider that not all people are going to have the same standards for honesty. I personally hold honesty very high and as a standard I don’t parse lies out by size. Lies are lies. There are no victimless crimes and there are no small lies. Honesty isn’t a debatable topic. You can either tell the truth or you can lie. Omitting parts of information,exaggerating and even the mythical “white lie” are all lies and all wrong. If you have to lie to settle a conflict, it’s wrong.
Maturity means that we are enough of an adult to be honest with the people in our lives and ourselves. It means we have nothing to hide and have the ability to learn from our mistakes. It means that we value integrity over being seen as a winner or an innocent in a conflict. Like many harder choices in life the payoff for personal responsibility is hard to see but it’s important to consider that if you have clean hands,they’ll always be clean whether you win or lose and the same goes for dirty hands.
To conveniently transfer or to responsibly hold someone accountable is a choice that revolves around perspective,reason and the topic of transference. Often when we are wronged in our lives we can carry that feeling with us and fall victim to transferring things like anger,resentment or even fear onto people or situations that trigger us. Examples of this might be instinctively showing fear or anger toward someone who resembles a past abuser or avoiding dating those that share traits with a past failed date. We can do this with situations as well. For instance we can apply an improper solution or even muddle factors based on a past experience. If for instance you have a very negative encounter at some point in your life, you may transfer parts of that encounter onto the next time a similar situation occurs.
Transference is a normal reaction in some cases, but if we aren’t careful and using good reason it can muddy the waters and negatively affect how we deal with everyday conflicts. It’s important to gain reason and perspective in a scenario for the sake of fairness. Remember to not dump more responsibility or fault because of transference. Respect that all people have their own merits and make an effort to judge them fairly and based on what you know, not what you assume. Don’t blame them for things that aren’t their fault or punish them because they’re “like” a person that’s wronged you in the past. Don’t jump to conclusions about the facts and potential outcome of a situation because it’s “like” a negative incident from your past. Make an effort to see every person and scenario as new and be open to that experience and where it might go. Don’t let transference allow you to dump facts and traits into an unrelated conflict and derail your sense of reason.
Ultimately we always have a choice in how we handle conflicts. While some choices may not be popular,easy or exactly what you want it’s important to realize the long term effects of making an effort to respect others and treat them well. Making better choices in our interactions can make or break our relationships. The next time you have a conflict, try to take a walk down the road less traveled. You may find that you end up reaping more of a reward than you expected.
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