Saturday, January 21, 2017

How To Be Ugly-Averse, Not Conflict-Averse

NOTE: I got so stinkin tired of hisforwardslashher-ing that I switched them all over to "her."
Because I'm a girl, that's why.

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I don't like alienating others. For a long time, back when I avoided alienating others in order to keep my first-born-pleasing-I-like-to-be-liked identity in tact, I believed it to be a flaw. I have always admired strength, and my unwillingness to upset others seemed quite puny and cop-out-y and, well, WEAK.

And back then it was.

But now that I am graduating out of my need to please...I am finding I still can't shake it. AH HA MOMENT IN MY THIRTIES: maybe the lengths that I go to not upset people are worthwhile lengths? Maybe this personality trait is rooted in my value of inclusivity...that there's more to gain from digging around to uncover what lies in common than sword-poking at differences. Maybe I refuse to be either offensive or defensive with regard to the world around me but rather understand-sive? And maybe, just maybe, it's not weak.

WAIT. WAIT. WAIT. I don't want you to confuse my consideration for others with indecision. Just because I am Switzerland-esque in my reservation to provoke a side doesn't mean I don't have serious convictions, or a side, in fact. This girl HAS her point of view. And she has no problem processing it out with anyone who asks. I am not described by friends as conflict-averse. Nor quiet. OBVIOUSLY! NOT! QUIET! I'll tell it to ya, oh yes, I will. In *charmingly* unsmooth and unpolished ways, I'll tell ya.

But - at least I hope - I'll do it in ways that make you least uncomfortable. You'll know that my intent is not to embarrass you. Or harass you. Or bury you. Or to "win." Or to make you shut up.

Even though I'm always right.


I just don't see what's to gain by adding an attacking edge to any discussion or action. I'd suggest there's a lot more to lose. As soon as the different-viewed individual gets to feeling that her views are becoming the object of judgement, you've LOST HER. There she goes, the very person you could learn the most from or teach the most to and ideally both. She will either fight (fangs out, anger escalating, Facebook comments irate, more in-your-face but internally farther and farther in her opposing-viewed-corner = losing her) or she will flight (silence, avoidance, finger-on-unfriend-button, not-gonna-talk-about-that-with-you-again = losing her). 


But what troubles me most is what happens next. Sure, you lost an opportunity. Or two. Or three. But if you lose ALL opportunities to engage in conversation with individuals who are in a different corner than you because you express your beliefs SO HARD and IN SUCH A WAY that it angers, offends, and/or insults the other....Whoooweee, people, that's dangerous as hell.

NOW... PLEASE DON'T BE MAD. Remember, I don't like alienating folks.

Well. You can be mad, just not mad enough to stop reading.

BECAUSE. I'm not asking for ANYone to believe her beliefs less hard. Or feel her convictions less convictedly (YUP, made that up). Or be more pliable and bendy and foldy to the very things she stands for or against. STAND ON, people! Stand on! Can we just do it WHILE being not-ugly, not-judgy, and not-insulty to those who aren't standing with us?

Last summer I came super close to F-ing up a friendship. I let something get in my head about what I thought was a character issue about this dear friend. And I let this thing fester awhile, meanwhile consequently being unintentionally weird around her, until she called me on it. And when I had to face myself and what I'd allowed myself to almost do (destroy a wonderful thing by letting my stupid self righteousness get in the way), I realized that the problem was all me. ALL me. I let my principles turn to pride. And THAT turned dark and ugly on my insides without me knowing it. And THAT twisted my thinking into something being her issue (when really there was nothing to begin with). Hey... there ain't nuttin wrong with principles alone... but watch out for that divisive, self-righteous pride when it comes provoking you. It has a way of sneakily hiding behind the honor and innocence of principles.

(Btw, I'm so in love with that phrase that I'm working out bumper stickers: "don't let your principles turn to pride" or "don't be pridefully principled" or "watch out for your P transforming to P"... wrinkles still being ironed out - stay tuned.)

(I'm kidding. I never make up one-liners and fantasize about them being famous bumper sticker sayings.)

(That was a lie. I do.)

BUT back to dangerous as hell. WHY? you might ask. Why is it dangerous to align your personal friends with your personal beliefs? I mean... That alone? Nothing. Really. As long as you have not alienated ALL your different-minded peripheral personal peeps ("p cubed"...not in bumper-sticker running). Not the ones who know where your hidden house key is or how many q-tips you use per week. But the ones in your outer circle who still are in-your-life-enough to care about how you are and MAY OR MAY NOT want to discuss your opposing views and ideals. The point isn't tearing off social etiquette bandaids at every single corner. It's that you are keeping those with whom you have owies (differences) near you. These aren't contagious diseases, folks... you aren't going to "catch" an opinion or a value. But what you might do, if you listen hard, is "catch" more about what they are about...whether you like it or not. And you might not.

But if you let every single one of your different-minded PPPs (or at worst push them to) leave your surroundings? You're in a vacuum. There's the Dangerous As Hell. It can be a super-lopside-y place inside a vacuum. I am annoyed every time I watch Campbell push around her little toy vacuum at all those small raging balls that go swirling and whirling behind that see-through plastic window... because of all their PURPLENESS... every last one of those damn balls is purple. All.the.same. In a vacuum.

In conclusion, here's a not-at-all-comprehensive (six, that's all you get), not-at-all-researched, not-even-at-all-tested-out list of:


1) Know your audience. Such a classic.

Do you know a person who can engage heatedly and respectfully in a debate about something near and dear to her heart and then switch over to what sort of weather to expect in the coming week without a blink of the eye? Like, as in, fully passionate and then fully ok with moving on. Not carrying emotional distress with her beyond the borders of that conversation... In fact, fully enjoying the process and moved positively by the opportunity to do a little mind-stretching work out? I do.

Do you know a person who finds herself caught in a tension-filled conversation and then makes three wrong turns going home and spirals away into a fitful sleep after downing a bottle of wine because that type of dialogueing just rips her insides to shreds? I do.

And shouldn't each be handled accordingly? Know how hard to push. Know whether the other person wants to "go there." Know her state of mind and whether she's got the mental space to commit to a forum on her convictions. Know - what you have to say and how you choose to say it - if/when it has the potential to move from an offering to a slam for that particular audience. Tact isn't spineless. Tact is tact.

2) Internet: This one is so clear-cut and definitive, it scares me: take your differences of opinion to a private forum. The alternative incites internet drama and leads to unnecessary digging-of-heals. I received a comment on a post not long ago that challenged the article I posted. A) I wasn't quite sure what this Facebook friend meant and b) I SO wanted to know where she was coming from. So, I found out. Privately. We had a delicious little slice of conversation (over instant message... a step up would have been a distraction-free phone call but, HEY, a girl's still gotta parent somewhat...) confirming the things we did agree upon. Even if we left that conversation with her still wrestling with the particulars of the article I had posted, something valuable happened. Much more than had I retorted publicly in the comments section for everyone to see.

Public social media commenting seems to me similar to what happens when you publicly call out a kid (student or your own). When I did this in teaching, they (since most of my student population weren't scared-into-compliance type of kiddos) would SHOW ME UP. "You gonna call me out like that? I refuse to be humiliated, so I'll over-act-out to compensate," says emotionally distressed kid. Heals.dug.further. Really, whether they want to or not. It's more Murphy's Law in play than their-real-thinking-selves. I'd 100%-of-the-time benefit better from a one-on-one with the kid that nobody else needed to know about. That's when you get real-thinking-self out of a kid. Or an adult. Or an otherwise potentially patronizing internet "friend."

3) Check yourself. And your own emotional state. Are you yourself in your right mind (read: blood not boiling, finger not getting pointy, pits not sweating [more than normal], butt not edging off seat)? Restraint will never be regretted. Do you need to give yourself a pass because you're just too damn emotional and impassioned to trust your words? To be sure they will be tethered at just the right length? That they won't spew out all lashy and angry and ugly and red-faced (try the exercise of actually visualizing letters of words red-faced... my favorite would be "P"). There's nothing wrong with putting yourself in opposing-view-conversation time-out. I put myself in bathroom time out on and off all day long. My kids just point now. Don't make your friends point to the time-out chair when you're too hot-headed to be able to put your own self there. Your ego will like it better if you know how to manage your own timeouts. (It doesn't go so well when I'm at 100 degrees in my emotional life - read: MAD - and my 4-yr-old silently points to the bathroom door)

4) I'm not suggesting being the subject of emotional abuse. You can do your best to engage in no-fight-picking types of conversations with your PPPs only to have them bating you into ugliness every chance they get. I never said all was fair in the game of respectful discourse. When it becomes too unfair, YOU be the one to disengage. BEFORE you get emotionally hooked. You can get good at knowing pretty definitively where the conversation ship is heading before it gets all the way to dock.

But here's the twist... KEEP THAT PERSON IN YOUR LIFE. I dare ya. You can set boundaries about what you won't conversate about without removing her from your life completely. That might leave you with only the weather and how the local sports teams are doing and what grade your kids are getting in science, but -HEY- she's a PPP. Remember, she has no idea how many q-tips you go through.

5) Watch out for bully bullying. I actually feel sorry for bullies sometimes. Not because I have a big enough heart to empathize with the reasons for them being bullies in the first place (although that's certainly a worthwhile pursuit)... but because as hurtful and misguided and cruel as their bully behaviors are, nobody deserves to be bullied. Bullied back. What's "standing up to" vs. bully-bullying, you ask? I think it has to do with the difference between "Your actions are hurtful and don't work with me/us. As a result, you will suffer consequences that match your actions" and "I'm going to Freakin. Take. You. Down." How is squashing a person a just consequence for their attempts to squash you/those you love? Standing up for yourself/those you love doesn't need to mean a long term personal vendetta. If you ask me, that's what gets us caught up again in the Murphy's Law canundrum where the bully is caught in a closed loop of defensive bully retaliation. This bodes not well for anybody.

6) Look closely at your insides and examine your intentions. If your insides say "fixed mindset" then you will have not a shot in hell in what I'm proposing (yes, I stole this verbage - the "fixed mindset" bit - from High Plains Elementary School's mindfulness curriculum, although I'd like to think good ole Mindfulness would want me to call it sharing). Because you won't be engaging. At best, you'll be co-existing and at worst you'll be clashing. Fixed belief systems and fixed mindsets mean different things to me. A belief system is the product of hard, hard, hard work chipping and polishing and chipping and polishing away at the Beautiful Sculpture that has come over time to be What You Believe. Although I argue that there's always room for an added detail or a removed rough edge, it's pretty OK with me when people decide their Beautiful Sculpture is finished. It's ok for belief systems to be fixed. In fact, in a lot of cases, it means folks have been through a bunch.of.crap and know themselves damn well as a result. Go, BEAUTIFUL SCULPTURE! Rock on! For me, and forgive if it feels that I'm mincing words, the fixed mindset differs from the fixed belief system in that, in a fixed mindset, the individual's Beautiful Sculpture won't play dress up. Refuses. Will have a playdate (or a playhate) with another Beautiful Sculpture and then, when the super hero capes and top hats and ballerina skirts and suspenders get busted out by the host friend, the fixed mindset Beautiful Sculpture won't put any of the get-up on. Not even for a second, even though trying on the foreign stuff won't alter her solidness one smidge. Her imagination is not working. Her contemplation machine is broken. Her empathy factory shut down. Open mindset doesn't mean you're exposing your Beautiful Sculpture to pick axes. It means you are willing to "try on" some ridiculous looking accessories (to you)... It means you are willing to gain more understanding as to why the other Beautiful Sculpture has added them to their permanent wardrobe.. And, then, it means you get to FREAKIN TAKE THEM BACK OFF again! No damage done...

But it's certainly not a cake walk. The much less complicated playdate/playhate involves not just refusing to play dress up, but lifting the sculpture off your stand and using it as a weapon. Principled pride. Gnashing metal. Cold hardness. Beautiful Sculptures showing their Ugly.

Play well with others, Beautiful Sculptures. Having an open mindset means you replace judgment with curiosity. And curiosity it better. And certainly NOT more weak.

P.S. I might suck at all six, but I suck the most at #1 and #3 and #6. Just today I saw an acquaintance wearing a T-shirt advertising the Creation Museum and immediately assumed I knew EVERYTHING there was to know about her. Now, after writing this entry, I'm gonna have to ask her for coffee instead (DAMN YOU BLOG!). Which do you suck the most at?

P.S.S. If you disagree, I welcome it! Just #2 me. (Seriously, would love a discourse privately!)

P.S.S.S. If you have a bumper-sticker-printing company, just let me know when you want me to make your rich.

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