Fixing the Problem is the Problem

This is sort of a companion piece to Complaining for Peace, which I wrote nearly two years ago. During that time I’ve read new books, watched some situations play out, and come to think about things slightly differently.

To be clear, I still stand by everything I said in that post; telling me when I’m off base is absolutely the greatest act of friendship there is. I’m sad that I don’t feel able to be a true friend to more people. In the last few years a lack of honesty about “wow, you shouldn’t have done that,” both to me and from me, has driven a wedge in several valued friendships.

But… I’ve also come to realize that sometimes being brutally honest just isn’t a viable solution, or even the best option. Unfathomable as it is to me, there are people in the world who don’t want to hear truth and will hate you for forcing them to see it – however briefly. Or, more understandably, there are people who absolutely would want to change if they could see what needed to be done, but aren’t ready for it yet.

A few years ago I took a personality/aptitude test that said my most dominant characteristic was a desire for “Harmony.”

People strong in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.

I scratched my head for a full week. So did everybody who heard of the results. How could the girl who never shied from an argument dislike conflict?

Then I started thinking, well, yes, I do want harmony. I want the peace that comes from an absolute absence of friction. I hate the conventional wisdom on literature that says a story needs conflict to be interesting; it annoys me when characters cause problems for themselves – I just want them to do the right and logical and reasonable and generous thing, and be happy.

The odd twist I put on it is that whenever I find conflict, I want it resolved, not just glossed over. For many years I had a certain OCD about telling people whenever they were doing something that negatively affected themselves or others. Despite what others might have thought, (most of the time) I wasn’t trying to be superior – I was trying to be helpful.

Which is perfectly valid in certain circumstances which meet all of the following criteria:

  1. the person would want to change if they knew
  2. the person is capable of hearing what you have to say
  3. the person is ready to hear what you have to say
  4. your delivery doesn’t interfere with their hearing

But, unfortunately, many situations will not meet the criteria. And in those cases, saying something will not only not resolve the current conflict, it will create a new one.

In such cases, the best option is to cultivate one’s own patience and peacefulness – and tolerance, even love, of others and their foibles.

But I expect there will be a third part to this series in another few years, because keeping in mind George Bernard Shaw’s statement that “The only man who behaves sensibly is my tailor,” one must assume that someone who is not ready to hear at one time may well be ready at another – and I have not yet learned how to retake that measurement. I look forward to that day.

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2 thoughts on “Fixing the Problem is the Problem

  1. I enjoyed your article. I, too seek harmony, but in a very different way…my husband calls it “avoid conflict at all cost” … Which is not always effective! I look forward to part three…

  2. I believe you are absolutely right, Ashley, in all 4 of your points. The problem I see is: how do we know when a person is at the point in their life where those apply? There have been tiimes when I have been confronted with a criticism that I was completely blindsided–never in my wildest imagination thinking that anyone would have taken my remark in the way that person took it. Yet, after stepping back and thinking about it, I could then see how, and why, it might have been seen in that light. And it was an eye opener, and a help in future communications. Sometimes we may think something just “needs” to be said, no matter what the consequences, especially if someone is doing or saying something that hurts other. But, you are right in that it shouldn’t be done just because “we” think it needs to be said. It takes mature thought, and must be important enough to risk a relationship. And that can be scary!

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