Smoothing over rough edges with friends

The metamessage received may be, “She doesn’t think I know how to dress myself, take care of myself.”

Chris wants to know:

How do you smooth over rough edges with friends? Do you ignore it, broach the subject, etc.?

It depends on what the topic is. Next question.

OK. But it’s true. What’s the issue at stake? Sometimes, you just let it go, and sometimes you say something. If you say something, you need to use “I” sentences, such as “I am not comfortable when you run over Bernie Sanders supporters.”

Is it an online dispute over politics? Those are usually in the “let it go” category. You’re not going to convince them, and they surely aren’t going to change your mind. Unless they’re otherwise abusive – “How can you think like that, you skank?” – move on.

I will say that if it’s really bugging me, NOT saying something almost never works. The issue metastasizes into a much bigger deal.

I’ve been reading the book “I Only Say This Because I Love You: Talking to Your Parents, Partner, Sibs, and Kids When You’re All Adults” (2001) by Deborah Tannen, which I am enjoying, and it has applicability to non-family relationships. I’m only in the part where she lays out the problems; I trust there are solutions coming. She notes the fact that, in many conflicts, there’s the message and the metamessage.

A simple example would be when someone suggests that you do something differently, wear more fashionable clothes, e.g. The message the sender thinks she’s giving is “I’m a good friend/relative, just trying to be helpful.” The metamessage received may be, “She doesn’t think I know how to dress myself, take care of myself.” And when more than two parties are involved, in sharing secrets and creating alliances, it gets even trickier.

So I tend to tread lightly. Humans are tricky. Humans online are even complicated than humans face-to-face, when you can pick up nuance.

This usually works; I’m still friends with people I went out with. Sometimes it does not work. Interestingly, Facebook is useful in connecting, or reconnecting, with people whose friendships might otherwise have lapsed, so there’s that.

Have you ever written poetry? When? Did you ever show it to anyone?

I went out with a published poet in the late ’70s and early ’80s. So I would go to the workshops. I tried writing a few and shared them with the group, but fundamentally, I just didn’t get it, and that was fine; I have other skills.

What’s your favorite tradition at your church?

I suppose it’s the raised candles while singing the third verse of Silent Night in an otherwise darkened church on Christmas Eve.

Looking for the commonality

One can seize on our differences, or celebrate the commonality.

This is a response, of sorts, to my post a while ago about avoiding conflict. I think that, in addition to what I said then, I look for the things in people that we share in common, rather than go after our differences. There will ALWAYS be differing POVs, and belaboring the point, most of the time, I don’t find particularly beneficial to me, or to them.

Take Dustbury, e.g. He’s this guy whose politics are probably more conservative than mine, though I have noticed that I’ve agreed with him recently on some governmental overreach issues. AND he knows more about My Little Pony than my daughter does. But I celebrate with him a love of music. He’s noted that two of my favorite albums of the 1950s were albums in his regular work rotation. He endorsed my Rock and Roll Hall of Fame picks. I came across him when I found his list of the Warner Brothers Loss Leaders of the late 1960s and 1970s; in fact, I even added to it. He’s a magpie like I am. Also, he’s from Oklahoma, and I like Oklahoma, at least conceptually. He’s been blogging for nearly two decades, and I’m impressed as heck by that.

When Jaquandor, that fine blogger from Buffalo, writes about fixing the Star Wars prequels, I tend to skim over the posts, since I only saw the first film – and HATED it. But it’s no big deal because I like his Wednesday questions, his fine linkage, his affection for space travel, the music he shares on Thursdays, his sense of justice, and especially his struggles to write not one, but (it seems) a half dozen books. I’m also jealous as all get out by his skills with tools, possibly because I have almost none. Not sure I get the pie in the face thing, but his unbridled joy about it is infectious.

I could go on like this, but I hope the point is clear: one can seize on our differences, or celebrate the commonality. Someone suggested to me that some people seem to thrive on conflict, and I’m sure that’s true. It seems to give their life meaning, a sense of engagement. That’s not me. I have my sometimes strong opinions, and I state them, and I’m good with that. If it convinces you, or confirms what you already believe, swell. If not, oh, well.

Here’s an example of what I consider unnecessary conflict: you put out a list of your favorite songs or movies or books, and someone comments, “How could you possibly like THAT?” Responses like that are intentionally provocative. I don’t make them, and people making such comments to me, or to others are definitely diminished in my eyes. “Yes, I like it because I DO. Please SHUT UP.”

When I wrote about my hatred of the N-word, my terrestrial friend Dan wrote to me that the discussion appeared to be annoying me – it never was – and that it was not his intention to do so – and I didn’t think it was. I DO think dialogue is useful, but not all things can be “solved” in an everyone’s-a-little-unhappy sort of way. Still, I feel safer posting to THIS blog than the Times Union blog because the people who come here are, in the main, WAY more reasonable than there; that I would discuss it at all is a reflection of the decency of the folks who visit HERE. (And it’s interesting: I did note that post on Facebook, but I didn’t get any trolls, which is NOT a complaint.)

Guess I’m saying that communications may be like a Venn diagram. Some, like me, try to go for the stuff in the middle when possible, whereas others seek to go along the edges.

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.