By Rev. Paul Graves
Dear Katie, Claire, and Andy,
How is your day going, kids? Did you confront anyone? Maybe you were confronted by someone? Either way, how did that go for you? I hope it went better than Jeremy’s mom fared in the 10/20/2019 Zits comic.
Jeremy’s attention was fixed on his mom’s speaking loudly to someone: “Well, that’s ridiculous!” “Why are you even saying that?” That’s not what I asked you!” “No! No! No! You’re not listening to me!”
As Jeremy edge closer to the sound of his mom’s frustration, he pulled out his phone to record her. “Okay, we’ll try this one more time…”, and we see her holding a device in her hands. “What’s tomorrow’s weather going to be?”
Dad turns to Jeremy with this advice: “Don’t take video of your mom arguing with Alexa.” To which Jeremy pleads: “But it always gets a ton of likes.” Mom hasn’t learned that she can’t confront Alexa and win!
Katie, I’m pleased you’re learning so much in your conflict resolution class at Portland State. The skills and attitudes involved in conflict resolution are so important. But we seldom embrace and use them in our daily lives. Healthy resolution always begins with “confrontation”.
Some of us hate confrontation, others enjoy it. But I suspect most of us don’t realize that confrontation can be very healthy at times, and very unhealthy at other times. I’m glad one of your class texts, Katie, is “Getting to Yes.” It was a helpful text for me also in my mediator classes.
One thing I continue to learn is that confrontation can be healthy if it focuses on two truth-pieces: 1) when confrontation is your only step, not a first step, you’re arguing with Alexa, a machine; and 2) confronting an issue, not a person, can lead to collaboration on the issue.
Let’s do a little virtual experiment. Think of a recent confrontation with someone. How did it go? Why do you think it went that way? How prepared were you for that encounter? So let’s begin with your own preparation. First, two word meanings.
The French root meaning of “Confront” is simply “face to face”. We’re the ones who put anger, love or whatever on one of those faces. The Latin root meaning of “Collaboration” means to “work together, labor together”.
ColLABORation can be easy work or hard work, depending on how you confront – not the person or her/his position — but the issue or the common interest you have in that issue. So how do you prepare to confront another person’s issue or interest?
First you must confront someone else before you do that. Who? Yourself! Go face-to-face with your ego, kids, with your own need to control the situation (or another person). Go honestly, gently.
Second: How can you confront your ego and control-impulse so you can collaborate with that ego, that control-impulse?
Here’s one way to think about that: Halloween is coming. What’s your costume going to be? Consider your ego, your control-impulse, as your costume.
Some spiritual traditions call our ego a “false self.” So where do we find our “true self”? That’s where collaboration comes in.
When we have the God-given courage to strip off our ego-costume — even one thread at a time — we discover a true self waiting for us. That’s the self that reminds you, reminds me, that “I am a child of God, even when I can’t believe it’s true!”
Kids, we can’t confront another person, or collaborate with him/her in love and respect, until we can do the same within ourselves.
Confronted by Love,
The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.