Sep 272012
 

I don’t like conflict.  Maybe this is because I’m a middle child, and am often prone to try and pacify a situation, making sure all interested parties are appeased.  Maybe it’s because of my Myers Briggs personality type, or because of a particular combination of race, class, and gender.  Whatever the reason, I don’t like conflict.  I just don’t.

Even greater than my discomfort with conflict is my discomfort with confrontation.  It’s one thing to feel the tension of conflict, but please – please! –  don’t put me in a space where I’m actually going to have to deal with that conflict, or address it head-on.  In my personal relationships, engaging confrontation runs the risk that I will hear things about myself that art tough to hear, or (even more difficult) that I’ll have to share with people things they might find hard to hear.  I don’t like it.  99% of the time I would far prefer to just move through a situation, find the least amount of confrontation that will yield the greatest margin of return, and get on with it.  That way, we can all smile and remain civil, avoid having to really hash out all of our stuff, and move on with it.  Let’s just let sleeping dogs lie; sweep it all under the rug; ignore the elephant in the room – let’s just avoid talking about anything that might make the situation worse.

The thing is, avoiding confrontation does nothing to actually minimize the conflict, and all that stuff we’ve been trying to avoid just keeps bubbling up.  We may have killed the proverbial elephant in the room, but it’s carcass is still there.  We can all try to ignore the smell; but, when folks start passing out, gasping for air because of the sheer stink of it, we’re gonna have to do something about it.  We’re in this room together, and the only way we’re gonna move through the difficult stuff is if we start to talk about why it’s tough.

Singer/songwriter Erin McKeown has a song called “We are More” that sums up a lot of what I’m thinking about (Erin also blogs at theclatterofkeys.tumblr.com).


<nbsp;>

This morning I saw a glimmer of hope
In the eyes that I met at the door
Of separate futures and confident sutures
To the wounds that we have endured

<nbsp;>
You hate the words of war, but baby face it!
That’s what it’s been for us
We were never good fighters or very good soldiers
But through this we are more

<nbsp;>
It’s victorian this embroidering ordering and
Sorting of memory to museum quality
In a box we are, we are and we’re art
For the victims and tourists to see

<nbsp;>
And this victory we’re part of is part and
Parameter of all that has come before
We were never good fighters or very good soldiers
But through this we are more

<nbsp;>
What’s the harm in ruins, reminds us of who
We were in darker times
In the pieces of colonies, we’ll find that we follow
A church of our own design

<nbsp;>
By our best, we’re remembered, baptized we surrender
By air, by water, by shore
We were never good fighters or very good soldiers
But through this we are more

 

I’ve recently started working on a writing project with a friend of mine, addressing ways in which her experiences as a black woman, and mine as a white woman, intersect; and how we can use those experiences as a means of understanding one another, and write about them as a means of helping others understand one another. We talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, our fears and dreams, and hopes for the future. I can say without a doubt that it has been one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been a part of – and it is tough. It helps tremendously that we have built a foundation of respect, trust, and mutuality, and that we really enjoy spending time with one another. But it’s really tough, primarily because we spend time unpacking all of the assumptions we’ve learned to make about one another.

In our conversations, we are making time and space to address head-on the things that scare us the most, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable with one another, to trust one another; which means that if she calls me out on something, I’m able to hear her without the shame I may otherwise have. In that, I feel liberated, I feel better able to empathize with both my friend, and with others – I’m less focused on my fear of confrontation and am able see the difficult conversations as building blocks to a new future.

It’s often easier to pretty-up the past, or avoid it all together – to look back through rose-colored lenses to our individual and collective histories in a way that distorts not only the past, but also the present. We can ignore the long-standing history of racism or sexism that is a part of the history of our nation or the church, but it doesn’t make it go away. We are carrying around all of that history – it’s written into our DNA, onto our bones. Regardless of whether we are proud of it, or ashamed of it – even if we try and ignore it – it’s there. It defines part of who we are, but not all of who we are. In trying to ignore our history, we let it overshadow all of the potential we have to learn from it. Let us look with honesty and humility at the ways we’ve messed up in the past, at the atrocities we’ve got written on our bones, and let that recognition and acknowledgement be the foundation for a new way of living. If we are going to learn anything from our past, we’ve got to take off the rose-colored lenses and look it straight in the face – otherwise we are bound to repeat it. It’s not comfortable, and it’s certainly not easy, but it’s essential. I daresay it’s vital to our very survival.

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