Thursday, June 30, 2011

Playing Fair

from a Carolyn Hax column (Washington Post):
Seriously. It’s not that hard to play fair with other people, once you internalize the idea that speaking your mind about something “mean” is a lot less mean than imposing silent punishment for this thing you decided was too mean to mention.

I've always tried to be upfront about things, and this approach was further influenced by two things in my adult life: living in a fairly horrid marriage for 15 years, and listening to a tape by Lynn Scoresby, a family therapist.  Scoresby always noted that people who wouldn't talk about issues, things, problems probably didn't love the person they were at odds with as much as those who did figure out how to talk.  His reasoning?  Solving problems can only be done through discussion, and a marriage (or relationship) with lots of problems solved is a happy (and loving) marriage. Having had both kinds, I tend to agree with his observations.

Maintaining relationships can be difficult, especially if you want the person who is driving you crazy to take a break, maybe go to the moon for several years. (Of course, it's always them.) Building relationships can also be a challenge, requiring meeting the loved one in the middle (or not-loved one, esp. if you have teenagers!), talking through hard things, and yes--as Hax notes--not imposing the silent treatment.  But the hardest of all is repairing relationships, trying to foster harmony where two disparate people view each other with hostility and misunderstanding across a wide divide.

I'll be spending the rest of my life working through all three of these, I'm sure.  I can only hope that I'll get better at it with practice. It was sobering then, when my mother said that she found the list of things she hoped to be forgiven for growing, instead of shrinking.  I understood why on some levels, but when I asked her, she said that she was remembering experiences that she felt were left unresolved (my words, not hers) and could have been smoothed over.  It's tempting in our culture I think to use the models we see in television scripts and movies as templates for conducting human relationships, ofttimes not realizing that the artificial bonds and links of those fictional characters are not normal, but instead they are slaves to the plot and purposes of the film makers, and often do not apply to the person who is across from you at the table. Conflict is what makes a good story.  Resolving conflict is what makes a satisfying relationship.  I guess that's why I try to maintain relationships with frequent contact (mail, email, visits), taking an interest in the lives of those I love, and trying to see how life is from their side of the equation. 

Most of us fail at all noble goals with some frequency, I've discovered in my older life.  But since all we carry with us past the grave is our relationships, it imbues the building, maintaining and repairing with a much greater urgency, a sense of gravitas and importance.


CSL said...

I assume you know that Lynn is a MOT.


The Barb Chronicles said...

I think NOT talking about things is great, I mean, why talk... really, instead I would rather ignore it, act like it doesn't exist. It has it's perks, ya know. I love seeing elephants in the room with me :) just sayin'. (Love you Mom, those who can't talk/ won't talk sometimes aren't worth it)

Judy said...

Great insights. I really like the differentiation between a good story and a good relationship. Too often we get caught up in the former and forget the latter. Not every hurt needs deep discussion, but most need some smoothing over of one kind or another, as your mother wisely noted, and any hurt resulting in the silent treatment damages both parties involved. Usually a few words and a bucket of forgiveness will take care of a lot.