I used to have a boyfriend that loved to argue with me. He even argued that we didn’t argue. These weren’t intelligent debates, they were one step up from the school yard, “I know you are, but what am I?” variety.
It would begin with (what I saw as) flawed logic. He would say something that made about as much sense as, “Well, that would be true if the sun set in the west.” It would be something so ridiculous that I’d take the bait before I even realized what was happening.
“But the sun does set in the west.” I would placidly reply as I cleared the table. It seems so odd to me that simply stating the obvious could arouse such emotion in a man.
He would reply with disgust, “The sun does NOT set in the west. I can’t even believe you’re saying this. It sets in the east and has since the creation of the solar system.” This would be served dripping with condescension.
Have you ever looked back at a moment in time and thought, “Ooh! I WISH I would have said_____!”? Looking back at these preposterous quarrels, even today, I can NOT figure out a single thing I could have said to this man that would have ended this insane dialog besides “Gosh honey, I guess you’re right! Why didn’t I think of that?!” and batting my eyes with a blank, bobble-headed stare.
As lovingly as possible, I would speak the truth as I saw it.
“I think you’re getting words mixed up. I think you mean to say west. The sun sets over the mountains, in the west.” I would offer this comment off-hand, still mainly focused on washing the dishes or whatever I was doing at the time. This response would be as effective at preventing a clash as throwing gasoline on flickering embers as an attempt to prevent a fire.
In the past, I really believed that problems like this were simply a matter of misunderstanding; that if people listened to each other and felt heard, the problem would disappear. Hmmm. It sounds so nice, doesn’t it? And then we could hold hands and sing, “Kumbya” together, and live in a magical stone cottage in the country and raise chickens and goats….
He would respond with remarks about how he was stunned at my lack of insight and would reiterate that the sun most definitely sets in the east. To make sure I heard him, he would repeat himself several times.
I would then try the “reflective listening” technique, “So what you’re saying is that the sun rises in the west, over the mountains, and sets over the plains, in the east.”
That would merely escalate his outrage. “That’s not what I’m saying at ALL! You’re not listening to me! I said that the sun sets in the EAST. If you would just listen to me, you would AGREE with me!”
And there it was; that insightful statement that I heard so often in that relationship. “If you listened to me, you would agree with me.”
As hard as it is to believe, I am capable of listening to a person, hearing that person, understanding that person, and yet, shocking as it is, not agreeing with that person. There are many people I’ve met that cannot grasp that concept. They look at me with anguished faces, hurt that I could deny them love by refusing to concede. That’s the implication you see; if I loved them, I’d agree with them.
Despite my pleas, he would not let it go unless I agreed with him. It would exhaust me; I knew that if I would just lie and get it over with, he would be happy and the peace would be restored. But here is the paradox; real love cannot exist without honesty. The most loving thing I could do was to tell him (with kindness) what I really thought. What he demanded was my submission, and that demand is the antithesis of love.
Why is the need to control those that we love so ingrained into human nature? I know that everyone does not have this affliction, but it seems so incredibly prevalent everywhere I look. Why do so many of us see independent thought as a threat? Why can’t we love each other even when we see things differently?
Of course, we can. We can give others the space to express themselves and we can listen to them without feeling obligated to acquiesce. It is a wonderful feeling of freedom and acceptance for both individuals. I am making a point of filling my life with those that love me whether we agree or not. I cherish the friends that allow me to speak my mind without seeing it as a personal attack. And those that try to manipulate or bully me into submission? I give them a blank stare and a calm reply before walking away.
“I am listening to you. I just disagree.”
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