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Approaching Disagreements with Dignity: Further Tips on How to Handle Arguments

I’m a big believer in the old adage that everyone tries their best.  In turn, I try to do my best to always be kind to everyone.  After all, there’s a form of struggle behind every face we encounter.  Kindness isn’t just welcome.  It’s necessary.

If you’re familiar with my website, my blog, and/or my memoir in progress, Painted Red, you’re also familiar with my turbulent childhood and the enduring, terrible power it had on me.  Despite the chaos I was confronted with daily as a child and teenager, I struggled mightily to convince others I was good and therefore deserving of their love and attention.  This desire to be thought of as kind and noble persists to this day.  Part of my mission in life is to continue rebuilding and strengthening myself by implementing better behavior, better practices, and better values, with the hope that it will inspire virtuousness in others.

So when I was recently called aggressive, impetuous, ruthless, and “tank-like” by someone I trusted and loved, I was stunned.  I was mortified that I could be interpreted in such a way, shocked to be called traits that were on the other end of the spectrum from the person I’ve long strived to be.  As I tried to defend myself, more accusations flew my way.  You are opened every hurtful sentence.  There was nothing I could say or do to change this person’s mind.  In her view, I was an awful human being.  I searched for the peace I find in meditation, yoga, and prayer.  Nothing worked, and while we’ve since reconciled, our argument continues to weigh on me.

Had this person approached our argument differently, I’m certain we could have talked to generate change, peace, and love, rather than invoke anger, defensiveness, and resentment.  To charge someone with absolutes is rarely beneficial.  If this person had said, “when you act this way, it causes me to feel this way,” I would have been much more receptive to her claims.  Who wouldn’t listen with at least a modicum of empathy to such a statement?  If you’re smoking a cigarette and someone nearby politely informs you they’re getting over a bad cough and can’t take the smoke, wouldn’t you respect them and move away?  Had this person used a specific incident to express why she was upset with me, I would have been more inclined to listen.  I would have understood exactly where she was coming from.  I would have apologized, and tried to correct the course of my actions.  Instead, I felt cornered.  Shaken.  Insulted.  I was so offended I didn’t have the emotional capacity to have concern and compassion for her, her feelings, or her position.

Last week I wrote about how we can approach discussions and relationships to grow personally and enlighten others.  It’s an important topic, so let me reiterate a few of my thoughts here:

Choose your words with care.  The moment we go from a verb (you’re overstepping your boundaries when you call in the middle of the night) to a noun (you’re a stalker), the more we freeze up, tune out, raise our guards, and close our ears.

Be honest about how you feel but also acknowledge it’s your problem that this person’s actions generate particular emotions in you.

Keep your expectations of others in check.  If certain people in your life don’t meet the expectations you have of them, realize that you are the one who pinned these hopes on them.  They didn’t.

Realize that you are responsible for your own happiness.  Others can enhance your contentment, but you are in charge of your own state of mind.  Rule it wisely.

Be mindful that doing so can create unhappiness in others, and ignore the negative energy you receive from them in return.  People who have learned how to care for themselves and love themselves can create bitterness and feelings of inadequacy in others.  Lead by example and treat them with consideration, but don’t allow them to steal a drop of your self-confidence or joy.  You earned it.

That said, exercise compassion.  Those around us have their own complications—some may be out in the open, some may be hidden—and it’s important to realize that our family and friend’s actions toward us are at times reactions toward other factors.  Remain aware of this, listen to their troubles, but employ boundaries.  You can’t be someone else’s punching bag.

Relationships are fragile, beautiful things.  By revising our approach to disagreements, we can ensure that they’ll bloom; that they’ll live on.

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