Over the last 24 hours, a dear friend and I have been having a deep talk from one coast to the other about conflict. To read Deb Bryan’s take on why conflict is good, please swing by her blog, The Monster in Your Closet, today. But wait! Before you dash off, I’d like to add my own perspective on how conflict is good, if handled in a healthy way.
I like to argue and debate, and I always have. As a child, I raised my hand too damn much in class. Perhaps that is why I went on to pace in front of the jury box and roll out legal arguments before judges as a young lawyer. My husband and I met in law school, and our idea of a hot date night is to debate penumbras, perpetuities and possibilities. To an outsider, we may appear as Bickering Bickerstaffs, but we can separate a rational and pleasant difference of opinion from a personal attack.
Speaking of personal attacks, I cannot tolerate them. Epithets and insults trigger memories of an abusive childhood, but this post isn’t about my childhood. It is about the universal need all humans have to express disagreement and anger in a healthy way.
That brings me to the first rule of engagement: never, ever be cruel. Be honest. Get angry. But never be cruel.
Expressing anger without resorting to cruelty or personal attacks is necessary for developing character and strength.
Anger, when harnessed, serves as the impetus for growth and positive transformation. It can make us champions for change.
The second rule of engagement relates to constructive criticism.
Often, we help each other become better people by offering constructive criticism in a loving way. I am blessed with strong friends who care about me enough to let me know when I have made a mistake, and to suggest a different course. Sometimes a critical word from a friend hurts like hell, but disapproval expressed with respect has made me both a better writer and a better woman.
The third rule of engagement is to argue in private, without making a public kerfuffle. I’ve violated this rule before, especially in writing. Just a few weeks ago, I argued with a dear friend in a dramatic and obnoxious way on my Facebook Page, and regretted it immediately. We made up, but the ironic thing is that we solved things offline, out of the public eye. In the future, when I get upset, I will pick up the phone and keep the dissent out of the limelight. It’s just better that way.
The fourth rule of engagement is a corollary of the third rule: do not pile on. As a child, whenever my mom would upbraid me, my father and my brother would climb aboard the yelling train. And that felt like hell. If someone argues in front of you, try to stay out of the fray; if, on the other hand, you are one of the contestants, do not seek or accept alliances. Supporting allies is great, until it starts a world war.
What do I mean? Recall, if you will, how World War I started.
For those of you bored by history, skip to the next paragraph. World War 1 began after Serbian nationalists assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. This event led the Austro-Hungarian government to declare war against the Serbians. Germany supported its ally, Austro-Hungary. Russia supported Serbia. Germany therefore declared war on Russia and on their ally, France. Great Britain, France’s ally, declared war against Germany that same day.
The fifth and final rule of engagement is don’t seek to have the last word, unless it is to say, “I love you.”
You cannot create harmony if you insist on always receiving a perfect apology or having the last word. If someone tries to end an argument, set aside your anger and your pride. Make peace. You will be happier. And the world will be a little better.
Peace and love to you always. And now I must run. If you have a few minutes, please tell me your own views on conflict. What are your rules of engagement?