Monkeys. They fascinate me. If I am roped into going to a zoo, usually with a small gaggle of kids on a field trip, one of the first places I herd them is toward the monkey compound. They ooh and aah, and then want to get to the elephants, but I make em hang on for a bit while I watch the interaction from one side of the glass to the other. I’m not talking about the pounding and yelling of kids saying, “Hey! Look over here!” while, hopefully, the parents/chaperon shushes them, but after that. When the kids get bored and wander away.
I’m talking about the lull in chaos. It’s when the intelligent looks come around. The looks that seem to say, “What if we could spend some time together, figuring each other out?” Or maybe it is simply the monkeys wishing they were on this side of the glass. Things get a little muddled when the eye-to-eye time lasts, roughly, 6 seconds before a little hand pulls me away and a voice whines that they will just DIE if they don’t see the elephants.
The fascination is there for me. The wondering. It grows even more as I watch the apes. Now let’s be real. The monkeys and apes are not happy to be in a zoo. The “Habitats” are not realistic, and the animals are NOT looking for a friend to have tea with. I’m saying, though, that there is something more to them than I experience from books, movies, and from a piece of plexi-glass at a zoo. They are interesting and fascinating. I can say this because I have not lived among them. It just wouldn’t be a good fit.
I think you would agree.
The same thing applies, for me, to confrontation. I have worked, mostly subconsciously, to keep confrontation on the other side of the glass. It is fascinating to watch, hear about, and witness, but does NOT work out well to experience. It’s unpleasant. So I have learned to deflect. I have seen that diffusing a situation with humor or logic is much more effective to me than a physical altercation, or shouting match. What would be the point of that, anyway? Just being out of control, throwing a temper tantrum and looking like an idiot? I do not like feeling like an idiot.
When I was younger, I worked to stay pretty even-keel. In high school, I could pretty much chat with anyone, whether I agreed with them or not. The drama stayed to a minimum. Now, it got a bit more complicated when my kids turned into preschoolers. Less humor, and more logic only got me so far. I did resort to “Because I Said So!” quite a few times. And I lost my temper a bit. I even spanked. (Gasp!) I felt ashamed afterwards, sure. I had let my hot-headedness win. But, it was part of parenting, I reasoned, and it would somehow get better as the kids got older and more logic kicked in.
I think we all know what a fantasy that was.
It was the goal to stay even-keel and avoid a shouting match. To present my side of the argument in a way that kept the peace, yet directed the conversation forward in an honest way. Sometimes, it even worked. We could stay on either side of the glass, presenting our different sides of view, and avoid confrontation from the comfort of the safety glass.
I managed to go toe-to-toe with two monkeys and a great ape, today. The safety glass was gone, and I just went there. It was not pleasant. I got my shins kicked. I’m pretty sure I have a great shiner on my left eye, and my ribs hurt. And … I gave as good as I got. Um, let’s be clear. My altercations were NOT physical. But verbally, I am hurting. I am exhausted. My pride and dignity are gone. Also, I learned that, as freeing as a good ‘ol temper tantrum is, the parking lot of an Adventure Mini-Golf is NOT the best place to throw it.
A son, a friend, and a brother all went toe-to-toe with me. There was no winner. The great ape of the friend confrontation was the hardest, with me screaming, “SHUT UP!!!! SHHHUUUUTTTT UUUPPP! JUST LET ME TALK! QUIT TALKING! LET ME JUST HAVE MY SAAAAYYYY AND SHUT UP!”
Not my finest moment.
Let’s be clear: The words, “Shut Up./!/!!!” were not allowed in our home, growing up. It was simply not an option. So imagine my horror, yet freedom, in just going there. Was it “Appropriate” to tell a friend to SHUT UP? Nope. But somehow, I couldn’t stop. Once I moved through the safety glass, all bets were off. I interrupted. I was interrupted. I even threw a few words and phrases that would have FOR SURE gotten me grounded.
I let go.
It took us finally hanging up and taking a break to stop the flow of release/anger. It took a break, possibly permenantly, in our friendship for the verbal barf-fest to ebb away. I had been part of chaos… and I felt exhausted. Immensely surprised. Livid. (Sock to the eye.)
I was ashamed.
I shook all over as I drove home. Never had I been part of so much drama. Well, I mean, since about a half hour before. I went there with a son. I had my buttons pushed, and I snapped for a few minutes. Again, the way it ended was a frustrated son stomping out the door, and a heaving, sobbing mom standing at the kitchen counter being livid over the ongoing battle. (OOOF! Smack to the ribs.)
As I took shelter in a thought on Facebook (I do this to give my thoughts up to the universe, basically, and let them go…), I received some feedback. Possibly another opportunity to enflame my already primed fight instinct this day.
I stepped away. I took a full hour to relax, meditate/pray, and wonder what, exactly can come from picking apart the reply that had picked apart my thoughts. I went back and forth. Then I went back to the problem. I looked, and noticed an email with an apology attached to it. He had noticd the inflamatory words and stopped as well. Whew! What ensued was an interesting conversation that included both our points of view, in a different kind of confrontation completely. I felt listened to. I felt heard and validated. We moved on from our opposing views to family experiences. We shared our commonalities.
The light went on, as I said my goodbye’s to the brother I suddenly felt closer to. I became aware of the freedom that came from facing a confrontation head-on, yet with a calm demeanor. It made all the difference. Let me be clear: It was still a confrontation. I still experienced my shins being kicked a bit in the beginning. But I chose to listen first, ponder, AND THEN be heard. No demands. No jumping into the ring with fists swinging. It was a choice to be honest, yet calm.
Maybe it was because I was exhausted. Maybe I came up against the right opponant for the day. But whatever the reason, I learned something about myself: Avoidance is NOT the key. It simply doesn’t work for me, any more than swinging my verbal fists. I can let go of the control and still communicate. In fact, it’s when I do let go of the control that I become open to the outcome. I’m not in charge of how the conversation goes. What right do I have to dictate how the other person expresses themselves? (Thank you to A. in the second round, for pointing that out…). I can, however, let myself be honest and straight-forward as I let it unfold. I can stand up for my views and be secure in sharing them.
And that can be done with a good ending.
It took the screaming in a parking lot, with plenty of onlookers watching a woman, behind the glass of her car, throw a temper tantrum at thin air, to make me realize there was a third option in confrontation. I can take the safety glass out of the observation in a relationship, and still be safe.
And THAT is worth all the trips through this zoo of life.