Remember that sweet song most of us learned when we were young that stated “Kindness Begins with Me”? Well, through lots of personal experience, I’ve learned that the opposite is also true. Contention also begins with me, even when it doesn’t. Realizing this has brought me great inner peace. Hear me out on this one.
After raising four daughters and being somewhat of a control freak, I have come to learn the hard way, that “my way or the highway” is not always a great strategy. I have come to realize that my reaction to disagreements is often the catalyst to love or hurt. “The mother sets the tone of the house” was never so true as at our house.
All of us experience contention and often on a daily basis. It’s part of life and it’s part of living in families and communities. No two of us are exactly the same so we react differently to contentious situations. It’s been amazing to me to watch our four girls who were all raised in the same home with the same standards, ok… true confession … we were way more strict with the older ones….tired and more lax as the last two came along! Then as they got married and started their own families, dynamics seemed to change. And without my permission, darn it! Just kidding, but without honest communication, the unsolicited change in family dynamics and individual roles can be stressful for all.
Not only in families, but in the work place, church groups, friends, and even with total strangers in the parking lot and/or on the road. So knowing that “life happens” and that it’s inevitable, how can we, individually, control our reactions?
I’m sure you have noticed as well as I that we live in a society of victimhood. It’s never our fault- always someone else’s. Many are given a pass to blame others for their misfortunes and failures. Hardly anyone is held accountable. How does contention happen? “It takes two to Tango” comes to mind. (I’m full of trite phrases today!)
There cannot be contention unless two people choose to engage. Yes, I said choose. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about here. Think about the last time someone was contentious with you. Doesn’t matter the situation. Immediately walls go up, old hurts begin to surface, we all get defensive and attempt to shield ourselves from getting hurt. Playing the “poor me” or repeating the “yea but” games only add fuel. How about we try something else? How about trying this? See if it works for you.
Next time you’re absolutely certain that you’re right and the other person is an insensitive, blathering, blah, blah, blah, take a piece of paper and write your thoughts down. “This person makes me so mad because….” Don’t sugarcoat it and be as mean as you can. Even include the “she/he definitely should/shouldn’t…”
Then ask yourself if what you’ve written is absolutely true or not. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll often come to the conclusion that much of your angst is merely a story you’ve concocted in your head. We play the “what if” game masterfully until we work ourselves into a frenzy.
For example, my husband travels periodically and I’m home alone which I really don’t mind. I can stay up and sew or read or whatever as late as I want. One night when he was away, I watched a stupid scary movie. The rest of the night I was nearly paralyzed with fear that an ax murderer would break in and hack me into small pieces. What changed from last night to tonight?? My thoughts! That’s it! Or… Someone texts me and says one word only. “Sure.” What does that mean?? I can’t quite decipher. I begin to think, “she’s mad at me” or “she’s trying to ignore me” “they’re kicking me out of the group and this is her way of letting me down easy.” See how our minds go crazy when we’re in a contentious state?
I’m not a professional counselor or psychoanalyst but what if we just continually chose to “not sweat the small stuff.” Choose to chill in a sense. Look at others as people rather than objects and treat them with kindness instead of malice. The few times I’ve done this, it’s made my life happier, and way less complicated. Me and my thoughts are the only things I have total control over.
Please do not think I am diminishing the devastating effects of physical and mental abuse. Those can be life-threatening situations that definitely need professional help. But even in those terrible seemingly unscalable situations we can somewhat control our reactions. Difficult? Yes, but if it could bring you some peace, wouldn’t it be worth it? The goal here is not to change the adversary, but to calm you’re heart and mind.
Remember, contention can only fester if both parties participate. Choose not to. Be sincerely kind and forgiving. Don’t give in to your crazy thoughts. Be kind to you for a change.