Nobody wants to be a jerk…all the time.
Being a jerk or mishandling trust is counter to the human need for community. It doesn’t take long for little kids to learn relational consequences of throwing sand on their pals, refusing to share, and tossing their peas on the floor…and the dog…and a tired parent. Toddlers learn these behaviors invite loneliness; time out, loneliness on the playground…nobody with which to share crayons or sweet secrets of childhood.
We as mortgage-paying adults forget this reality and say/do A and then are surprised with outcome B when the small gap between us and the people we love becomes as the Grand Canyon.
Recently, I stumbled into a Grand Canyon moment. Though my attempts to stay calm and speak my truth were valiant, eventually I heated up conversation. At one point I heard my inner warrior gleefully warn, Welcome to the ThunderDome!
If you haven’t seen a MadMax movie in a few decades, the ThunderDome is a post-apocalyptic steel cage arena – similar to the Roman colosseum in function – where combatants fought for the pleasure of the dystopian horde and to solve territorial disputes among rulers. As fetching as Mel Gibson was to see onscreen, the results were brutal and bloody. The loser always suffered harshly if they survived at all.
Anyhoo, this is the image that popped into my thoughts while I lobbed one rapid-fire question – not so much clarifying question, more blitzkreig – towards a good-hearted person with whom I vehemently disagreed.
The image stopped me mid-sentence at one point and ushered in an epiphany: No longer was the issue the issue. What was at hand was a war of words and wanting to win.
I had forgotten the good-heartedness of my friend.
I had focused on what I saw was motivation and forgotten the possibility that this was a mistake and not a misappropriation of trust.
I had allowed myself to bunker down; choosing self-protection and a volley of verbal evisceration over a desire to deal with the real issue and move back towards this good heart.
Hmmm. I began to think, “how can we do this thing better?” How could we deal with our differences and move the conversation towards healthy closure? I’m a big fan of dealing with the elephant as it ambles in the parlor. Better deal with it now before it destroys the sanctuary of home or relationship and eats all of the peanutbutter.
As the rush of thoughts swirled to slower speeds, I identified a few things to consider when the bell rings and you are on your way out swinging (or jousting):
How is the stage set?
I was tired and have been trying to sort out finances, how to best support kids and folks; and the befuddling future. Ugh von Ughen. Not a great time to receive unnerving information or to react. From now on, I’ll try to take a few moments to get a glass of water, breathe in and out, and let the unpleasant reality settle before jumping into the fight.
Who are the actors?
Sometimes people are jerks, they are good at it, and they delight in it. Most often, people are good-hearted. We, humans, are good at so many things – including making mistakes. Perfection is not our special strong point. Remembering the history with the person who has just burned our biscuits is key. Remembering our desired future is also helpful. Do we really want to blow through all of our potential pals in the county because we demand 100% fealty and perfection? Do we ever read our lines with perfect good-heartedness? (Nope.)
Learn your own lines
I don’t like confrontation. Really. But I am learning that it is my responsibility to speak my truth and to listen intently to others.
Let the other actors live their own lines
In the middle of round 2 in the Thunderdome, I heard a sincere and kind and strong-hearted “I’m sorry.” Woah. This was no “whatever!” trumped up apology. My pal’s heart was exposed and he acknowledged the result of his decision and he took responsibility for it. He did not gloss, spin, suck up, or make it up to me (thank goodness!). He did the better thing and spoke truth. Took responsibility. Apologized. Holy moley that was powerful.
Remember the theme
The next line was mine. Was I going to allow adrenaline, fear, and anger/hurt take over, or could I remember the overall heart of the friendship, act like an adult, and accept the apology? Honestly, it took a while. I like to kick a good issue around the corral until it is raggedy and everyone is exhausted.
Close the curtains and walk away
Fortunately, I no longer identify myself as a debater; the win (or the Kill) is no longer the end goal. Relationship is the goal. Learning. Gaining strength as community is the greater good. This meant we needed to sort out from the high seats what had happened to bring us into the arena…the ThunderDome.
We needed to listen to one another. We made a plan for the next bump in the road. We practiced forgiveness, shut the curtains, and walked away. We will not be bringing the props from that evening with us forward. That show has run its course.
Relationships of all kinds are hard. People can bully, skirt issues, weary one another, ignore the truth, and freeze in conflict. But friendships and relationships are so worth the effort to speak truth, barter in honesty and kindness, and the hard work of making and keeping healthy.
I know people who blow through friends like I do Kleenex in Kansas. They consider themselves impeccable and never see the bodies in their wake. I don’t want to be this person. It takes work and community and derring do; it is so worth it.
Onward friends. Let us find ways we can all grow from the skirmish and avoid the destruction of war.
Oh. And I found this MadMax-related theme just in time for the Royals and the World Series. Enjoy.