The person who pays the piper calls the tune. Except when payment doesn’t come, then the piper takes revenge.
The legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is about a politician reneging on a promise to pay a vendor who rendered a service. In essence, the politician broke a verbal contract and then forgot about it. The vendor returns to the town sometime later and takes his payment (in the form of luring the town’s children away).
The legend is so deep and enduring, it has become almost a myth, its lessons enshrined in our language and even our proverbs.
When we call the tune of responses and behaviors in our conflicts, the questions for us are the same ones there have always been:
When do we pay the piper?
How much will the payment cost?
We only ask (or think) about these two critical questions when the cost of doing nothing to resolve the conflict in a way that benefits both parties, seems to be the only way for us to risk nothing and gain everything. Then, when the answers to these two critical questions don’t work in our favor, our behavior in a conflict situation begins to resemble that of the politician in the town of Hamelin long ago: We attempt to avoid paying the piper.
Going back on promises, risk avoidance, ignoring the impact of emotional residue, finding reasons to not put in the work to get to a resolution, and withholding reconciliation (or even forgiveness) are all ways we attempt to avoid paying the piper of conflict.
And eventually, if we keep it up long enough, the things of emotional value—relationships, trust, respect, accountability—begin to leave our own internal emotional towns.
Be sure the tune you’re calling in your conflict is a price that you are willing to pay to the piper.