I hate conflict.
Makes my insides do somersaults. My mouth gets dry. My heart races. I hate it.
Always have. Which means I avoid it.
And that’s a problem.
Because some legitimate disagreements need resolution, and that can’t happen without confrontation.
So when I avoid conflict, say, by letting a neighbor continue to play his music too loud, or by letting an issue go unresolved, things don’t get better. They get worse. Often much worse.
Maybe your roommate is a slob, but you just don’t want to cause a fuss about it. Or someone your care about just won’t pull himself away from that computer screen for an honest conversation … but you don’t want to make a stink. Or that person cuts you off in line, but you don’t want to cause a scene.
That kind of confrontation.
Always between people of course. The kind of conflict where usually you just mutter to yourself or kvetch to your loved one about what an inconsiderate jerk that so and so is.
By letting their dog bark incessantly. Smoking where they shouldn’t. Or playing their music too loud in a common space. Or (a bane to campers) running their horrible droning generator at all hours.
Those are the kinds of things that don’t get better without confrontation.
So I’ve been practicing.
A neighbor at camp has a fire when they’re not allowed? Initiate a confrontation.
Dog up the hill won’t stop barking. Initiate a confrontation.
Fella at the convenience store gets mouthy with the cashier. Confrontation.
Which means: knock on a trailer door, show up as the buzzkill, step into the fray.
“Hey neighbors,” it often starts. “Look, I hate to have to mention this, but you might not have noticed how your (dog/music/smoke/generator/bright light) is really disturbing the environment we all came here for …”
I would just rather shut my windows. Pull down shades. Put in headphones. Put a pillow over my head. Tough it out.
Anything but confront someone.
Anything but get those heart-racing dry-mouth belly somersaults.
Because if you do that, if you call someone on their bad behavior, if you get in the face of a thoughtless dolt or selfish jack-wad, there is something worse that could happen to you than getting a door slammed in your face or a “mind your own business” brush-off.
Something worse than than a manager’s shrug.
Something even worse than a drunk taking a wild swing at you.
Someone might not like you.
And The Kid Inside can’t stand that. The kid who didn’t fit in at age six or sixteen and whose whole world revolved around doing what it took to be liked can’t stand that. Even when that kid is now past sixty.
For that person whose persona is “I’m the peacemaker; I make everybody happy,” having someone not like you — even a stranger and even for a moment — is the worst possibility of all.
So I’ve been practicing at not being liked. For science.
Because it’s not fair to the rest of us when inconsiderate louses get away with spoiling things. And as much I don’t want to be that cane-shaking coot all the time, sometimes there’s nobody else around. And I have a pretty big psychic debt of avoided conflicts to make up for. So I channel a person or two I know who have a knack for calling people on their bad behavior and go cause a fuss.
Results are mixed: some music quieted, some lights extinguished, some fires put out, no generators silenced, and only lip service about keeping dogs quiet.
Maybe a tight smile and a “sorry.” Many more derisive glowers and cold shoulders.
Which I’m getting used to, and properly so. Because they’re teaching me, even if slowly and decades too late that maybe, just maybe, my whole world won’t come tumbling down if a person I don’t know doesn’t like me.