The fact of the matter is no one can truly penetrate another person’s conflict experience.
We have fooled ourselves into thinking that, with all the social proofing via digital tools, and the peacock-like social media displays that we all put on every day, that we know other people’s inner lives.
But we don’t.
This is why we’re often surprised when a person casts aside the carefully constructed false mask of their digital life and shows the warts and all. We become fascinated, not with the honesty and truth, not even with the vulnerability; we become fascinated with the act of being honest and vulnerable. But we shy away from interacting with that person on a deeper level.
Conflicts, disagreements, “differences of opinion,” frustrations, expose this dichotomy in a person-to-person, face-to-face interaction. We want the other person to change (I had a person in a workshop recently ask me “Why shouldn’t the other person see that I’m angry!? Why shouldn’t they see that they’ve pissed me off!?”) because we want an outcome that benefits us in the short-term.
Without really unwinding the gossamer of strands that got us into that situation with that person in the first place.
The law of compound interest is particularly instructive when thinking about this. The law basically states that interest—over time—compounds slowly and inexorably, a quarter point or so at a time. Until, when the party who owes finally takes an interest in paying back the loaned amount of money, the interest has built up to such a point that they can’t. The law of compound interest is what led many in the ancient world to despise money-lenders (religious prohibitions against usury), or on the opposite scale, to lend money out at outrageous terms and then when the amount plus interest could not be paid back, to frame the lack of payment in moral terms and throw the borrower (and even their families) out of a community (debtors’ prisons).
The law of compound interest applies just as keenly when thinking about how the responses and reactions to conflicts, disagreements, “differences of opinion,” and frustrations build up over time, until the reaction from both parties is to explode in anger—or shut-down into passivity. There is no resolution from such cycles of build-up, explosion, retreat, build-up, because every new cycle builds up new strands of complication as surely as compound interest builds on the loan principle of the the conflict. Until it’s so big and heavy that banishment from a community—or a situation, or a relationship—seems like the only answer.
Engaging with conflict in this mental and emotional framework seems scary and requires a person to be as vulnerable as they would have to be if they ceased to perform for a digital audience of “friends” and began to get honest and vulnerable. Resolving the conflict in this mental and emotional framework seems easy because resolution implies a release of the tension, compounded over time, from the uncomfortable friction of “dealing with this person.”
But all the tactics and strategies; all the tools and the verbal jujitsu; all the “hacks” and improvements; all the surface engagement and “easy” resolution; all of these things are just methods to avoid vulnerability, to indulge in the satisfaction of releasing our anger as a weapon rather than as a tool, and in the end only compound the problem, one quarter point at a time.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: email@example.com