Confronting Confrontation in California

Dec 10, 2012    /    philosophy

This is how Luna feels about confrontation.

San Diego has been hard for me.

It’s not the fault of the city. The city is gorgeous and temperate, vibrant and full of things to do. It’s down the street from my favorite spa and Roommate #1. It’s home of a sandy dog beach where Luna loves to run.

No, it’s not the city’s fault. But it’s still a place that I’m feeling eager to leave behind. Because my time here has been full of the harder things in life—stress, a lengthy to-do list, and, now, conflict.

Oh, you guys, I hate conflict.

I hate it so much. And because I hate it so much, I don’t do it often. And because I don’t do it often, I totally suck at it.

For a long time, when thrust into conflict, I’d retreat. The books talk about fight or flight, but there’s definitely a third option: Freeze. That is what I do. Conflict. Super awkward situations. Really hurtful words. I just get quiet. Freeze up. Wait for the storm to pass so that I can quietly sneak away.

But, honestly, that’s probably not healthy.

So over the past couple months, I’ve been trying to be better about speaking up when I’m feeling attacked and distressed.

The first time I spoke up was during a phone conversation. It was in Colorado before the elections and the person I was talking to was being over-the-top hateful toward anyone not voting for his party. And I don’t care what party you want to affiliate with, but I DO care very much about loving your neighbor, trying to understand people who are different than you, not oversimplifying someone’s very personal convictions and beliefs.

In short, I didn’t want to talk about politics with anyone who demonized the other side of the argument. In the words of a wise, relatively dashing friend: “Don’t make either side into a cartoon villain.” No one is all good or all evil.

I told this person firmly that I didn’t want to talk about politics.

He kept talking.

I said it again.

He kept talking.

I said I was at my destination and I would talk to him later and I hung up the phone.

It might not seem like a lot to you, but that was huge for me. Hanging up on someone (albeit politely). Saying no when I was feeling attacked. I felt utterly triumphant.

Fast forward to San Diego. This time it was a stranger who left me utterly distressed. And, again in an effort to stand up for myself, to not be bullied, to not be a good victim, I confronted the distressor.

This time, though, I don’t feel triumphant. I feel frustrated. Because confrontation is hard. Conflict sucks. Causing another person discomfort goes against my grain.

I don’t like telling someone who is interrupting me to pipe down and let me finish. I don’t like working up the courage to confront them in the first place. I don’t like telling people they’re wrong. Even if they are.

So, yeah. I still don’t like conflict.

But every year I think it’s more important to stand up for myself.

I think there’s also merit in holding your tongue, not saying things you regret, not harming someone else just because they harmed you. After all, love suffers long and is kind. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t occasions to stand up and say “enough.” Enough of the hate. Enough of the bullying. Enough of thinking the world orbits your whims.

I’m still finding the right balance between being a peace maker and shaking things up. And it’s hard sometimes. But I think it’ll be worth it in the end. Because if I had a daughter, I’d tell her that standing up for herself was really important. And so was treating those around her with kindness. And I’d want her to find the balance in that.

So I guess I should too.

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4 Comments
  • Samantha
    December 10, 2012

    I have an MA in Peace and Conflict studies and I struggle with this one like you and everyone else! I agree with your realization that dealing with conflict is important, even if uncomfortable. I have learned that working through conflict always presents an opportunity to either turn a situation around or learn how to do something different the next time. Avoiding it means missing out altogether. Two book recs for further reflection: The Little Book of Conflict Transformation by John Paul Lederach and Sitting in the Fire: Conflict Transformation through Diversity by Arnold Mindell.

    • Gigi Griffis
      December 10, 2012

      Thanks for the insights (and book recommendations). I hadn’t even thought about looking up books on the subject.

  • Just One Boomer (Suzanne)
    December 12, 2012

    I share your dislike of conflict which makes it a little strange that I chose law as a profession—although the law allows for stylized conflict with rules. Actually, I’m much better at advocating for others than for myself. Through the years (and judging from your photo, I have been through more years than you), I’ve learned to pick my battles. Some people are truly not worth your energy in which case the “polite” hang up or withdrawal is probably the right course. Rage is enervating. BTW, indifference is one of the more effective forms of revenge — IMHO.

    • Gigi Griffis
      December 12, 2012

      Yeah. That’s interesting. I too am much better at advocating for others. And you’re right, indifference (or just being successful despite someone else) is sweet revenge! :)

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