Avoiding conflict

I was always a GOOD kid. I had anger, but it was quite suppressed growing up.

Dan Van Riper, the Albany Weblog guy, first wrote to Ask Roger Anything:
Roger, I… I’m sorry, I can’t think of anything to ask. I really want to but… I can’t. Why not?

Because my life’s an open book? Because you’re having dental work done?

But then he came back and asked:
Wait, I just thought of a question. It’s actually been in the back of my head for some time. You’ve said more than once that you don’t like conflict between people, that when it happens you tend to shy away from it. I know several people who are like that. My question is, why? Do you have any idea where that comes from? Or is that too personal?

To answer the last, easiest, question, no, it’s not too personal.

I suppose I need to define the terms. My daughter’s favorite Beatles song is “We Can Work It Out,” which features the line: “Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting, my friend.”

Watching the Sunday morning news shows, or Bill O’Reilly, or the like, I realize I would not do very well. People are rapidly throwing around facts and pseudo-facts, often yelling over each other. It would create in me too much agita to think clearly. Later, I’d have some treppenwitz moments, thinking of what I SHOULD have said.

I’ll state my positions – say on this blog – and I’m sure there are people who like them, and people who don’t, and that’s fine. People – you or others – will have a reasonable response. Maybe we’ll change each other’s minds or maybe we won’t, but it’s OK because it seems to be done with a level of mutual respect.

Whereas on the Times Union blogs, or national newspaper websites, the conflict tends to escalate, with one side trying to out-shout the other. No one will be convinced of the position of the other, so what’s the point, really? I’ve posted some things on the TU site, where I made my initial observation, then others blithely go off in directions I hadn’t intended. I let them, but after a while, I get bored with it all. It seems futile.

Then there’s the uncertainty thing, the sign of a good humanities student. I certainly don’t pretend that I know all the answers – others may think so, but it’s not true – and I put forth the possibility, in SOME topics, that I could be at least partially mistaken. I don’t have the need to badger others about those things.

I’m an old political science major, but political arguing I find demoralizing. Often, “victory” is seen as stopping government, or a corporate entity under its jurisdiction, from doing what it ought not to have been doing in the first place.

None of this, though, is the REAL answer. The REAL answer is how I was raised. My mother was great with the aphorisms such as “You get more bees with honey than vinegar.” My father’s message is that the angry young black man thing doesn’t work well in a primarily white society.

I was always a GOOD kid. I had anger, but it was quite suppressed growing up. I expelled a LOT of it in my twenties, no small portion of it at my rather controlling father. And once I let it go, a lot of it was just gone. I just don’t get as angry as I used to; sad, frustrated, even occasionally in despair about the world The Daughter is going to inherit – pollution, global warming creating ecological catastrophes, economic and cultural inequality, to name a few. But anger just doesn’t work for me, most of the time.

In fact, anger makes me feel out of control. It’s been known to give me a raging headache. I’ve been told I look like a crazy person (crazier person?).

Interestingly, then, it means that the rate times I REALLY get angry, it’s usually more effective. If I’m a known hothead, then its effectiveness is compromised.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

7 thoughts on “Avoiding conflict”

  1. I get tired of political anger. There are days when my facebook timeline seems like an endless loop of Outrage. Like you, I’m not comfortable with argument. Some people seem to enjoy it; some people enjoy roller coasters, too. Both of them just make me uncomfortable.

    In interpersonal conflict, I usually attempt to repress outward expressions of anger in favor of reason and “I” language. “I am made uncomfortable when you behave in such and such a fashion; is it possible for you to adjust your behavior in a way that is mutually acceptable? Can we discuss this?”

    However, I’ve found that while most people are amenable to such an approach, some people are more open to a clear expression of anger. The considerate, lets-discuss-this-like-adults approach strikes them as somewhat sinister. Some people actually respond better to the “STFU YOU ARE REALLY ANNOYING THE S&$# OUT OF ME!!!” approach. As a result, I sometimes allow myself to express anger with people who I know will be more open to it.

  2. I hate watching news shows (both sides) where they step all over each other’s comments and try and out-shout the other person. It’s irritating. I find that it’s so easy to register outrage with the onslaught of social media. There are few filters in place for civil discourse anymore.

  3. Anger can be a good thing if it causes you to focus on the problem and look for a solution. Tell me you’ve never been nagged by the Mrs. about something until you’re about ready to explode. In that moment you focus like a laser on a solution if for no other reason than to shut her up. What’s the expression? The squeaky wheel gets the grease. 🙂

  4. I have been dealing with various heart aches and pains recently, and my cardiologist told me to have less stress in my life. My work situation has changed by 180 degrees in the last two years, and that is a major stressor in my life, along with this my anger level is on the rise, learn to relax, Tom!

  5. Okay Roger. When it comes to arguing for the sake of arguing then I agree with you completely. Debates are a waste of time. You want to win the argument by any means necessary, then congratulations. I concede.

    Almost always the arguments that I get into involve desperately trying to get a point across and not succeeding. Case in point, our recent argument about the N Word which ran through the comments of your recent post and continued by email through the afternoon. Both of us tried to get the other to understand The Point, and both of us got more and more frustrated and neither could stop until we both got distracted.

    Actually, I thought you were referring to conflict avoidance in general. Do you habitually shrink from confrontations, or do you have better ways of dealing with conflicts when they happen?

  6. I also dislike conflict. I think in some cases I get the sense that the high-conflict person is the sort who’s convinced that their way is by God the right way, no, the ONLY way. (listen to people talk about diets. Paleo vs. Mediterranean vs. locavory vs. I don’t know what. It can become a battle royale).

    I’ve always felt that in a lot of things, especially matters of taste or preference, there’s no “best for everyone,” only a “best for this particular person.” And that I really don’t have the right to determine what another person eats or watches or whatever.

    Also, a lot of times I have a suspicion that Sayre’s Law is in effect – “the smaller the stakes, the uglier the fight.” I once had a colleague who would pick an argument with you if you said the weather was nice on any given day. I find that kind of thing exhausting because I find conflict – having to constantly more-than-defend or justify what I am saying – difficult to keep up with and just something I don’t want to take part in. I’d rather find a connection with someone else than a point of conflict.

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