05 August, 2008

It's a fine line between firmness and intolerance

Location: earth
Mood: still wondering who's right and who's wrong

We spend our lives communicating. And it is something that all living things do. Arguably, our capacity for communication, other than the number of modalities, probably is not wildly different from most other animals. We can kid ourselves into thinking that poetry, and email, and text messages, and vapor trails in the sky are some type of sophistication. But is it more sophisticated than the chemical messages that red ants send to one another? Or birdsong? Or scratching and scenting a tree?

So, the thing about human communication that makes it unique is that it is probably far less stereotyped than in other life forms. Given a particular stimulus, most amoebae will react similarly. But we have far more variety, partly due to our complexity, and partly due to the number of experiences each of us has that shape our personality.

An interesting thing is "communication breakdown". When we are all getting along, or at least understanding each others' points of view and needs, communication is not really something that is even noticed. It is just the telephone wires carrying the signal of our daily commerce. But when we get into a conflict due to a lack of understanding, or the failure to get along, suddenly those invisible telephone wires become more like a creeping ivy that entangles us, electrocutes us, and strangles us. The beauty of most of these conflicts is that usually all parties involved believe, at least "in the moment", that they are "right" and that everyone else is "wrong". We tend to trust our own perceptions and judgments when we are under pressure or threatened. That's not surprising.

But what about after the fact?

Do we rethink, reassess, and see that "oh, that's what was happening"? Or do we cling to that safe little nugget of righteousness? And do we ever get to the truth? I've seen every extreme in this realm. I have engaged in many of them. I have refused to acknowledge error or fault, when I later realize I was wrong. I have refused to acknowledge error or fault for quite some time, only to realize - long after it was too late to matter - that maybe I had been wrong. In those cases, I am looking back on the event almost as if I were a different person than I am now. I can recognize it as wrong now, because that is not who I am anymore. I have also acknowledged error or fault when I maybe should not have done so, allowing the other person "off the hook", because it was more important to keep the peace. I've done it all. And of course, the "good" example would be when both parties quickly acknowledge a misunderstanding (responsibility), show respect and appreciation for each others' perspective (validation), and take actions to see that both parties feel that the wrong has been righted (reconciliation). In fact, this happens a lot of times.

But I still don't know where I sit on the curve. I have always been more of a "want to see everyone get along" kind of guy, and therefore I do a lot of apologizing, backing down, and accepting responsibility, and compromising. This would be true of romantic relationships, as well as friendships and family relationships. Embedded somewhere in there is the "valuation of self" issue that I keep revisiting. If we always put up with everyone's shit, and never say "Okay, stop! Now it's your turn to meet me halfway!", then we aren't really valuing ourselves appropriately.

So, recently, I have put my foot down a time or two. And it is hard. I have doubts. I wonder and wonder, am I doing the right thing? But there are objective measures. When a conflict arises between people who are "close", there needs to be an honest effort on both sides to at least acknowledge the value of the item at stake - the relationship. If you do not even feel you're being shown that, then what can you do? We can tell ourselves over and over, until the cows come home, that the other person is just not as good at communicating, or has a hard time apologizing, or has a hard time accepting blame, or has a hard time seeing things objectively, or is defensive, or any number of other things. But in the end, I'm pulling my weight in the relationship, and shouldn't the other individual at least be held to a modicum of a standard?

The irony is that putting your foot down in these cases may very well fall on a deaf ear, because they didn't see it before. So what will cause an epiphany now? But it does have to do with valuation of self. We are not doormats unless we make ourselves so. People need to earn the relationships they have. And maybe they didn't put in the effort because they cannot do it - in which case, they better stop making excuses, and learn, without being coddled and enabled. And if they didn't put in the effort because they really don't care, then maybe it's good to realize that, from both sides, and move on to relationships that are more important.

It's really a case-by-case thing.


  1. ...you kicked a deaf person in the ear??

  2. Just to clarify and so you can move on and write a new blog entry, I'm right and you're wrong. Thanks!

  3. Inman Wheelright08 August, 2008 06:00

    Compromise is for chumps. See the movie Mr. Woodcock for a stunning example of this mindset (it got one star, but I think it deserved two).

    The less willing somebody is to discuss a point of contention, the more likely they are to be dogmatically clinging to an irrational belief.

    Tactics vary from ridicule to quick escalations to outrage. All those tactics are designed to change the subject away from the sensitive area (having to admit that one might be wrong).

    While tact, open-mindedness, and diplomacy are admirable attributes, they sometimes dilute the conviction that needs to be conveyed. Stick to your guns, and point out when your argumentative opponent is deviating from a logical dialectic.