Yesterday I wrote a little about the art of conflict resolution in our personal lives. Later on, I got to put a few things into practice as one of those sticky situations emerged. Without going into the details, it was a situation where I felt the other party was being petty and ridiculous.
Given my somewhat combative personality, I had two choices. One was to confront the person and tell them exactly how they were being ridiculous, listing each behavior they had undertook and how it supports the assertion that they were being extremely small-minded, petty, and just a general all-around jerk. In other words, I could become petty myself and turn the petty situation into a huge, heated argument. The other was to somehow rise above the situation.
Having plenty of experiential evidence to indicate that the first approach would result in an explosion where both parties would be left smarting and angry, perhaps for several days, and also being in a rather good mood that I didn’t wish ruined, I did not pick this first option. After the initial sinking feeling of “here we go again”, I decided not to do anything at all for the time being. What to do, what to do, I kept thinking to myself. It’s amazing how emotions can get out of control so quickly. Somehow I got a break this time, because though I felt the normal impulse to lash out and attack, the urge was surprisingly weak. I suppose it has something to do with knowing that it wouldn’t work, and not wanting to bring that ugliness about. Or maybe I’ve just become resigned to the reality of these situations. Whatever the reason, I could calm down enough to think. I decided I would back down from this confrontation as it was really not worth it. I would bite the bullet and take the actions necessary to avoid confrontation, which in this case meant the simple act of washing a few dishes which should not have been mine to wash (told you it was petty). And I realized that it felt better to be the bigger person here.
After making yesterday’s post containing mention of the book “How to Live Quietly”, I went back and read a little. One line stood out and and stayed with me throughout this whole ordeal. From the ‘Family Peace‘ section:
“When our selfish emotions are allowed to come to the surface, we can sense them in all their horror, and by refusing to act, to speak or to think from them, we open our hearts and our minds for better things to come in, and they always come.”
I kept repeating in my mind the part about “refusing to act, to speak or to think from [our selfish emotions].” And by golly, it worked this time, because it felt like I could identify my selfish emotions! And as I thought to instances in the past, I saw again how even when I use say, NVC techniques, I am often speaking from the selfish part of myself. This means that in those instances, I may be using language that is nonviolent and may even think that I am being nonviolent, but my intentions are to win some sort of ego battle and are therefore actually violent (hey, nobody’s perfect). It goes to show that “fake it ’til you make it” is a sound approach, because that’s exactly what I’ve been doing! Thankfully, I am now starting to get a clear idea of the kind of mindset I really want to cultivate.
Writing in my journal helped me see how I had once again fallen into the trap of negative thinking. My thoughts toward the other party had been negative, not only during the course of this situation, but for a good long time. The negativity had also escalated in the last few days. I didn’t dwell on my own bad habit too much, after all we are human and don’t like to see our own faults. But it’s certainly a terrible thing I was doing. Such negativity surely must be felt by the other person, if not via some sort of psychic means, then through body language and facial expressions. While externally not in the wrong, I had to admit that internally, I was very much the wrongdoer.
I think this realization was a large part of the reason a real change in my thinking has taken place in the last 24 hours. I’m not sure how much I can do to convey something so subjective to the reader- how can you tell if I’ve really changed? Plus, it’s only been about 12 hours since this happened- I’m almost sure there will be relapses to the old way of thinking. But I feel like I can say that something has really changed, I have been able to steer my thoughts from negative to positive or neutral all morning, something that I haven’t ever done in this way before. Half the battle towards getting to this point is to be aware of your thoughts. Since I woke up this morning, I have been checking myself when I notice those negative thought patterns- passing judgment on the behavior of others, overthinking their personality flaws, replaying bitter arguments from the past, etc. Just plain ugly stuff- makes me feel like I’ve been walking around with a head full of garbage on my shoulders. I notice it, and realize those thoughts come from what Call calls the “selfish emotions”. And I am able to operate from a nonjudgmental part of the mind- sorry, but I can’t tell you what that actually is or how to get there at this point! Perhaps later on, if and when it becomes more clear. I do think it’s something that we each have to do for ourselves, though.
I don’t mean to make it sound like I’ve had an epiphany. I think it’s more like I’ve reached a turning point. After all, I have been practicing, albeit on and off. If nothing else, this is proof to me of the things various people have said about the power of the mind and of our thoughts. Today, I feel fresh and like I am making progress in life, even though I must look like the same person. Funny how that works.
A little tip for those who struggle with emotions as I do- welcome those times when you wish that conflict would just go away. You know, those times when it seems like you can barely function in your life because something is eating at you. Those are the best times for change, because you can’t ignore what is happening and are forced to face it. If you can turn this energy inward, real change is possible.