I heard it happening, could predict the series of events with perfect prescient parental precision. A happy game on the trampoline between classes, the merry sounds of mirth floating to my half focused ears. I thought it would end in tears about the same time it truly did end in tears. Such is the way of the well-trained mother.
The offendee scrambled into the house, whimpering and simpering, a list of allegations as long as his arm. The offender tagged along behind, no doubt working up a case for her defense. Their father intercepted them in the kitchen, which seems also to be the mediation room. I listened from my desk, rather entertained.
He was mad because she changed the rules in mid-game, without consulting him first. She changed the rules mid-game to her advantage (I mean, duh. If you’re going to make up a game, and then mandate the rules, you’re going to make sure you win with those rules. One point to the offender.) He explained to their father, through breathless sobs, how she took away his leaping jump, an integral part of his winning strategy (one point to the offendee for having a strategy). She pointed out that he might get hurt (uh-huh. Nice try, there, sister).
The dialogue devolved into a shrinking spiral of he-did/she-did and I could not help but smile that my husband got to handle this one. And also, it really was kind of funny. Around and around they went, neither willing to concede or resolve. They were both mad and dammit if they weren’t going to stay that way.
I returned again in my mind to a relational truth: boys and girls, men and women, speak different languages. In the case of the trampoline game gone horribly awry, they both wanted to win, but they couched their anger or hurt in distinct terms I found curious. He wanted to win and said so. She located her argument in language of the caring sister.
Trying to resolve a situation in which neither party understands the other is difficult. She explained her reasons again and again. I have to wonder, too, if she’s been raised in a culture that expects girls to protect relational peace while expecting boys to duke it out and win at all costs. She never said, explicitly, that she wanted to win, but that much was clear. No matter the reasons, the two could not, would not see from the other’s perspective.
That is until my husband, their father, challenged them with the old “walk a mile” dictum. “How would you feel if…” They tried. Oh how they tried, to cling to their arguments. But eventually, Dad’s persistence and their desire to break away from the lecture required they put aside their own ideas and try to see through someone else’s eyes.
It’s not easy. We don’t like to know how other people see a conflict, because when we do, we see how we messed up, and that’s just no fun. And it hurts. And by golly we want to be right in our extreme rightness. Problem is, it doesn’t solve anything and it just keeps us stuck in the center of a tiny and uncomfortable spiral of anger.
What do you do during conflict to either resolve it or keep it burning bright?