Jun 7, 2005

So, the other day I was riding along with a good friend of mine on a busy street by my house. At a corner near my place we, or rather he, got into a brief verbal altercation with a cyclist. Now without going into too much detail I'll just say that it involved engine revving, some hostile words on the bikers part, and an ending comment of "come get some." and that it was more comical than unpleasant.
But, as this was going down I found myself, quite literally, shrinking in my seat, saying something along the lines of "oh hell, lets just let it go and get out of here!"
My friend's response to the situation was quite different, though, almost happy and excited and while he mused "did I really say 'come get some'?'" he also mentioned the interaction made him feel better.
And I can understand that.
I mention this situation in no way to disparage my friend's behavior. He met a rude cyclist and had a cathartic reaction to confronting him. Period.
What I was more fascinated by was my opposite reaction, and the knowledge that if I had been in the same situation, I would have found such an interaction the opposite of enjoyable. I am pretty sure I would have felt a little sick, and just a little anxious as well.
I was also somewhat surprised by another friends response to this story, who pegged my reaction right on the ball, but followed it with noting that I was most non-confrontational person he knew, or something of the like.
And I thought about this, and the fact that I've had some people describe me as non-confrontational, while I've had others note that I am surprisingly direct.

And I got to thinking about this, this word "confrontation" and the nature of said confrontation.
And to a certain extent I think he was right. I don't tend to enjoy confrontation. I enjoy it even less as I get older. But yet I would not say I am one that avoids confrontation, so much as one who would tend to avoid starting confrontations, especially aggressive confrontations, and definitively fruitless confrontations .

And what do I mean by "fruitless confrontation?" Well first off, and implicit in this description, is my aforementioned reaction to such aggressive exchanges, which is to say that I seldom feel BETTER for an argument or conflict, especially with strangers. Aggressive exchanges, in my book, are best reserved for moments in which a solution needs to be found, a thought needs to be communicated, and there is no less intense way of accomplishing that. I don't find fights or hostile exchanges cathartic, and I always find myself feeling guilty when I lash an acid tongue or get the best of someone in an argument.
This is not to say that I don't enjoy a good verbal sparring at times, but in order to earn the name "good", for me, it needs to be friendly, and it needs to accomplish the goal of fruitful communication.

I mean, it's not say that I need everyone to get along all the time, or that I believe some people don't need to be shown the consequences of their own idiocy, I just don't enjoy yelling at people, or even getting angry at people. And again, I view this as personal, not universal. A great many people enjoy getting angry. They enjoy the rush adn the focus. I'm just not one of them.
I don't like to do it, and as such, I only want to do it when it serves a goal.

And this got me to thinking about loaded words like "confrontation" and "confrontational" and how, for some it has such negative consequences, and others such positive ones.

Technically, confrontational seems like it should mean the tendency to want to address, directly, an issue or person one has a problem with. Likewise, one would assume the opposite to mean avoidant. However, depending on how you view the word, confrontational can mean aggressive or difficult and argumentative, and being non-confrontational can make you anything from a peacemaker to a pussy.

I'd like to view myself as somewhere along that continuum.I'd like to define healthy confrontation as communication that directly addresses an issue.
And let me clarify: I like to communicate.
And despite some of my failings, I like to try to communicate effectively. And implicit in this is not just ceasing opportunities to express my opinion, but finessing the situation so that my opinion might be heard and considered constructively. And vice versa. And I have found that few people, very much including myself, have the ability to communicate effectively in the heat of the moment...other than communicate the fact that they are angry and upset.
I am reminded of a couple I know who once got into a heated argument when she returned home one day in which the husband claimed she was "smothering him" and couldn't he just "leave her alone and stop crowding him". As the discussion progressed he stood by his claims that she was needy and smothering and she eventually took it to mean that she should, well, leave him alone more and give him space. She went and made a lot of plans, went about doing things without him, and he ended up feeling rejected. It turned out, when they revisited the conversation, that what he really needed was for her to leave him alone for 20 minutes when he first got home, pretty much as a rule, and to simply ask before committing him to social functions, but that in general he wanted her around as much as she wanted to be around him.
I have witnessed a great deal of these kind of interactions between myself and others. Found myself telling someone to go away when I meant, "take ten steps back", experienced expressions of anger, frustration and jealousy that had simple solutions, had the participants taken 20 minutes to think about what it was they were really angry over, what needs were being met, and what could constructively be done to solve the problem. And I have had people believe they were "confronting" me or another when they were really, only managing to accomplish pissing the recipient off while never really communicating their needs whatsoever.
To be clear, I do not think one should confuse confrontation with an opportunity to lay blame, or expunge anger.
As such, I have grown weary of heated confrontations, or aggressive exchanges, be they passive or active. I doubt their efficacy, and I suspect they breed more aggression than solution.

And on a less personal note, when it comes to confronting strangers: bad drivers, errant waitresses or rude pedestrians, I have to admit, I not only dislike emotional confrontations, but find it hard to even give a damn enough to bother. I mean, sure, people piss me off, but I've noticed that the ability for a total stranger to anger me lasts about 10 minutes. The ugliness between of a confrontation, for ME, lasts much longer. And while I might be able to stomach the ugliness if I believed it served a purpose, I seldom think that to be the case. I mean, if someone is a jerk to me, I tend to assume they are either actually a jerk, and thus are apt to dismiss or anticipate my reaction, and are thus unlikely to learn anything from my telling them that, you know, it's wrong to cut me off or whatever. And if they aren't a jerk, they usually notice their own mistake and feel pretty bad about it, or at least aren't apt to repeat the behavior frequently and will get little out of the reprimand other than personal humiliation.
I mean people make mistakes. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. And yes, some people make an aggressive habit out of being a jerk. I suspect they are the mistakes. But either way I seldom consider it worth my time and effort to respond and easier to let it go, even if it means it takes me 5 minutes longer to get where I am going or have lunch or whatever.
And again, this is in no way meant to imply that this makes me a better or more zen person. Just to express that people are different as such, i reserve the right to dislike such interactions, and to choose my reactions accordingly.

And does this mean I think people should avoid aggressive confrontations as a rule and shut the hell up when it comes to transgressions?
No.

Every situation is different and some situations call for yelling at a stranger or being very aggressively direct with a friend. I think a great many people have cathartic or meaningful confrontational exchanges.

But I also wish that a great many more people would simply step back and think about what they hope to get out of a "confrontation" for a few seconds before they pursue it. Especially an aggressive one. If they are attempting to communicate or educate, be it with a stranger or a close loved one, ask themselves what is they are hoping to say or find out? One presumes the point of confronting someone or something is to shed light on the situation at hand. I just wish more people would evaluate, when they raise their metaphorical hand, whether they are holding a flashlight or a mallet.

3 comments:

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
chris pez said...

bottom line: daff's a pussy.

Anonymous said...

well, at least you didn't mention her race this time