Tag Archives: conflict

How to Live on a Day Like This

Today is one of those days where I want to run away, hide, scream, cry, give up.

But I’m tired of feeling overwhelmed. I want to do it differently. Like 880 freeway differently. Like why did I get this tattoo if I was just going to be beaten down by every tiny dilemma that comes my way. Even if there are fourteen of them and they are all coming at me at once.

I  sit with the feelings, keep my eyes and heart open to love and meaning.

It’s really freakin’ hard.


Radical vs. Conservative

The latest trend is to idealize a situation in which Republicans and Democrats would work together. Slightly less popular is to declare that they are both the same thing and that true progressives should jump ship and be Green Party or Libertarian or something altogether different.

But we miss the fundamental point of working together: it’s not to agree and  make everyone of the same opinion. It’s to use all the various points of view to compromise on the best thing possible. We mistake “working together” as “we’re all going to be on the same page and get what we want.” No. We need to be on different pages and each we need to get some of what we want and let the rest go. For now, anyway.

Mark Twain said about radicals vs. conservatives:

 The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them.
– Notebook, 1898

I think this points out an excellent fact about the way humans work: we balance each other out. If we’re in a situation together and you seem overly confident, I’m going to start doubting things, just to make sure you thought of everything. If I am absolutely certain that I know how we should proceed, then someone else will throw an obstacle on my path to help me work out the kinks before that detail I overlooked snowballs into a full-fledged crisis.

But always we move forward, radical and conservative, innovator and critic, dreamer and traditionalist.

Every king needs his fool.

Every head-in-the-clouds artist needs his feet-on-the-ground patron.

So what is it that gums up our works? Why is it that we cannot come up with health care for everyone, with alternative forms of energy, with an economy that doesn’t leave bodies in its wake?

Is it that the money has become more powerful than the people? Is it our capitalist notion that the “market” is a benevolent, organic entity that will do no wrong if unleashed? Is it that we have no principles in common other than vague cheerleading about “freedom” and “prosperity?”

If, instead of throwing stones at “the other side,” we could see that all points of view are necessary and helpful, then we could move past petty arguments and actually start getting things done.

Whose fault?

Chapter 8 of the Tao Te Ching, as translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, reads thus:

The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.

In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.

No fight: No blame.

I think this is one of the most beautiful, simple yet profound things I’ve ever read, and if I had to issue one memo of wisdom to the world (or, if I were being high-tech, if I were to tweet one message across the globe), this would probably be it.

I had such an eye-opening experience yesterday which showed me how I am still so quick to assign blame and swell with righteous anger, even though I abhor the idea in theory.

Some background: kids are mischievous. The kids in our neighborhood are normal in that respect. There have been scooters “borrowed” and abandoned in far away places, big wheels trashed, balls purposely thrown into the woods, cars egged, etc.

So yesterday I was returning from a quick errand, and as I’m turning off the main road and onto the little road that goes through our neighborhood, I see the metal box that we keep our sidewalk chalk in, and it’s laying on its side just at the intersection of the white line on the edge of the main road and the line that would divide the middle of the little road, and the chalk is strewn.

My first thought… What little punk did this?

I pull over the van, retrieve the box and chalk, ready to drive through the neighborhood and interrogate every kid I see. Why would someone do such an annoyingly mean thing? That’s the last time I let anyone play with our chalk… or anything else for that matter…

As I’m driving, and luckily not encountering any kids, I remember how we were outside earlier, me and my friend and our four little ones. I remember how my 2 year old was carrying around the box of chalk around the driveway, occasionally stopping to scribble something.

I remember how the van’s back bumper is wide and flat for stepping on to put stuff on the roof.

I remember how my 2 year old loves to put stuff on the bumper, despite my pleas for her not to.

My imagination re-members, connects, puts back into place the pieces of the truth, which is that a few minutes ago I drove out of the neighborhood slowly, then accelerated onto the main road, which would have caused the box to slip off the bumper in the exact spot I found it.

In a second I go from arrogantly angry to humbly grateful that no one ran over the metal box with its sharp corners, which could certainly have done some damage to their tires, at least.

The fault was mine, and it was an innocent mistake, but I was so ready to assign not only blame but a malicious intent to someone else.

How often to we approach a situation with an angry heart and a judgmental attitude, when we truly don’t know what’s going on?

No fight: No blame.

We can at least start there, right?

Give the Gift of Your Attention

Although I think Buddhism has a lot of good advice to offer parents, sometimes there is an idea that simply jumps out as speaking directly to those whose job it is to nurture children, such as this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:

The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.

When we are interacting with our children, do we stop our hurried, multi-tasking activity and look them in the eye? Do we give them our undivided attention, listening carefully and responding thoughtfully? Have you noticed what happens when you do this, how the child lights up, tunes in, seems somehow relieved?

I think I manage this with a fair amount of frequency with my own children (although no one’s perfect, and I am daily guilty of glancing over, nodding and saying, “uh huh” just to let them know that I’m pretending to listen to this tenth identical announcement of what their imaginary friend likes to eat for dinner.)

But what I’ve noticed is really magic is when you do this with someone else’s child. The effect that it has not only on the child but on the relationship between that child and your child is astounding to me.

Some days, when my kids are playing with neighborhood kids, I might look out the window and see them playing too rough or doing something unkind, and I holler out the door, just to let everyone know I see them.

But other days I’ll go all the way outside and strike up a conversation, not even mentioning the undesirable behavior, but just some kind of engaging interaction where I let them tell me what they got for Christmas or their trip to grandma’s house or whatever. I stand there, really listening, with the same amount and quality of attention I’d give an adult friend.

When I leave to go back inside and the kids re-engage in their activity, they are energized, cooperative, and seem happier. They somehow magically find something that’s fun for BOTH of them instead of playing aggressor/victim in some fashion or other.

Not forever, of course. Conflict will reemerge at some point down the road, but there will be at least a good half hour, if not more.

Have you noticed any magical results of the gift of your attention, either with children or people of any age? In situations of conflict or any other circumstances?

How Much Negativity is Normal?

First thing this morning, I roll out of bed after that jerk alarm clock so rudely woke me up, stumble into my daughter’s room to wake her for school, and before I’ve even had a sip of coffee I am confronted with this:

The previous evening we had had our (unfortunately) usual conflict over homework and bathing. Evidently it had hit her pretty hard, to generate such a sad response.

First, if I might be so callous as to point out the positive aspects of her letter:

1. She wrote something without being ordered, cajoled, threatened or bribed! Writing being one of the things we had argued about yesterday evening.

2. The lines of communication between the unloved daughter and the monster Mama seem to be pretty open, so that’s a good thing.

3. She has apparently learned my secret weapon (the guilt trip) well enough that she was able to turn it back on me. A+ and four gold stars for that one!

4. Her cleverness seems to know no bounds – notice how she puts a witty, guilt-inducing spin on the standard closing of “Love, So&So.” Pure genius!

Now to the negative. I know that I, for one, felt this exact way from about age 5 until age just a couple of minutes ago, and I fully expect the feeling to recur any minute. Is this my personal neurosis that my poor daughter has either genetically inherited or otherwise picked up from my toxic emotional environment?

Or does everyone go through this as a normal stage of growing up?

On the one hand, I think it is natural for every parent to want to cultivate and maintain the health and happiness of their child. What better satisfaction is there than to see pure joy upon that sweet little face?

On the other hand, without some trials in life, we would be fluffy, weak and pathetic creatures. To allow a child to feel a serious, profound connection to reality, even though sometimes that involves discomfort, is to allow a child to grow as a genuine person and, eventually, to become a capable, functioning adult.

I think especially in the Attachment Parenting world, we are prone to err on the side of eliminating all possibility of frustration, sadness and discomfort in the name of physical, emotional and mental health.

So is this letter an unpleasant but expected sight on the parenting journey, or is it, as she intended it and as I intended for my parents, a no-holds-barred condemnation of the quality of that journey?

All I know right now is, she ventures further away all the time as she grows and explores the world, and that’s natural. I hope that every time she returns to my embrace, she feels the warmth and affection that I’ve always had for her, and always will.

Dixie Comes Home

We got our van (named Dixie) back today after a week and a half, two new tires, a new torque converter, a fixed leak in the engine somewhere or other, and about $800 spent.

Dixie When We First Got Her in 2008

Besides the return of mobility for 6 members of the family (my husband absolutely needs his car all the time for his job as a journalist), I think he and I might get something else out of this: a new way to handle stress and the interpersonal conflict that often results.

The van had been making horrible whirring and rubbing noises for awhile and I’d been getting more and more scared about what it might be, to the point where I’d drive down the road and terrifying images of wheels flying off and head-on collisions would pop into my inner vision.  (A word of advice: tire rotation is worth it.)

When I talk to my husband about potentially expensive issues, many times we end up having an argument.  Nothing serious, but nothing pleasant for either of us.  One of the downsides to being poor is not having the luxury to calmly discuss matters which threaten to sink you further into the hole you try every day to climb out of.

But does it have to be this way?

After I’d transferred the car seats to the van this morning and prepared to go home from the mechanic’s, I gave my husband a hug and kiss and thanked him for handling the problem for me (I don’t dare try to deal with mechanics because I’m sure they would overcharge a small, polite woman like me.  Whether this is a valid concern or not, all mechanic-dealings go through my husband.)  I felt truly grateful that he had listened to my feelings and took action to make things better.  And I could tell by the look on his face that he was relieved it was over and also feeling good that his family could now be carted around in a safe vehicle.

As I was driving home, an idea came to me: what if, the next time we need to discuss some expensive issue, we could first take a minute to picture the contentment and satisfaction of that moment hugging in the mechanic’s parking lot, visualize the chill in the air, the thin layer of snow on the world, our connection as a married team who can face anything — together.  Might the conversation go smoother?  Might we avoid feeling panic over the prospect of spending money, when we can remember what the end result can be?

Now all I have to do is remember to try it.

Do you have any creative tricks to remind yourself and others of connection and success, to smooth out a tense conversation or situation, to bolster confidence and encourage a spirit of cooperation?