It’s good to talk

My lovely wife and I tend to bicker with each other rather than row. Neither of us can stand to let a dispute last more than a few minutes, but then that is the kind of people both of us are. It works well for us, but it is not a model for everyone. We have friends who seem to positively enjoy a bit of explosive banter on a regular basis and a running verbal battle over several hours. But the common point in both relationships is that in both cases there is plenty of dialogue.
I was listening to a talk recently (from Peter Marsden, who works for Concordis International ) that looked at how you can try and bring peace into conflict situations, whether these be between tribes, countries or in a relationship, and it was rather scary to see how these situations can arise and intensify so easily.
Conflict and argument are not bad things as they stand and can arise for any reason, many bad, but some with positive outcomes. We need to argue and question things in order to attempt to get at the truth of any matter – I recall Plato is very keen (and extremely annoying) on that question, question, question thing, in the understanding that if something is true, it should hold up to any amount of questioning – or that the questioning will go onto expose the real truth. In Jewish tradition part of worship is to argue about the Talmud and its meaning again in a belief that new insights into God’s Word will come out of that discussion. So in lots of areas of life a good argument is not a bad thing.
But power, resources, fear and just plain ignorance are far too common and when it gets nasty then there is increasing separation from each of the participants in the discussion, to the point when they turn their backs on each other and stop listening.
I find this interesting because I can think of times in my life that I have done this, gotten so fed up with someone or a particular argument that you just give up talking to them. After all, there are plenty of other people to talk to and you are getting nowhere (The Smiths “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” is going through my head). So I turn my back. Listen to the hand. Oh dear.
Now cut off from any sense of balance, you then start to warp the whole affair into your own image, your own version of reality which continues the separation. This is also the point where we become vulnerable to third parties with their own agendas – “he said that you…’, ‘You know what he did?’ etc – stories that you cannot verify because you no longer talk to the other side. OK, we might not believe the vehement denial, but at least we can judge the response, maybe see the confusion that actually reveals what was a lie or exaggeration. Sadly in any conflict there are those who want to help, and those who want to maintain or even inflame the situation.
So do we have a solution for world peace yet? Sadly not, but we are not getting anywhere near it if we stop talking to each other. We don’t have to agree, we just need to first better understand the issues that each side have, look for some common ground and maybe there is a solution that can be used to moderate if not resolve the conflict. But I need to start at home, as with some many other things.
It appeals to me as I have found out over the years that I am a conflict avoider and would like to see everyone get on. So I find special shame when I cause conflict, usually over the silliest things (in retrospect).
Apparently this is quite normal, and that people act disproportionately in an act or word of retaliation to what can appear a relatively small thing. The suggestion for why this might be is that the slight, whatever it is, has hit us in a personal soft spot, something we feel unsure or uncomfortable about, something we may or may not have been deliberately hiding. For example, when I periodically feel bad about my body image (very often, unfortunately), a shouted insult is deeply upsetting, even if in a rational examination afterwards I know deep down it means nothing. So I am going to try and keep calm (and not go over and land a punch, which is honestly what in the moment I feel like doing), have a cup of tea and think about what is it about me that made that thing upset me quite so much and why someone feels they have to act like that in the first place – what’s eating them? And if I can fix that problem in myself then maybe the world will be a (very slightly) peaceful place.