For today’s life:unmasked, I’m featuring a post by Hilary, who blogs at Sittin’ There on Capitol Hill. Her fresh approach to Life:Unmasked caught my eye a few weeks ago. With “Dear Hilary, Love, Hilary” she sets her story up as a request for advice from herself to herself. If you are a poetry lover, check out her new Monday series featuring poetry found and some of her own too.
I avoid confrontation. When someone says something that irks me, I shrug it off. When I sense there is a problem between a friend and me I say nothing. I’d rather sit in silence, awkwardly holding our Starbucks cups, hoping that the tension will dissipate if I give it enough time. You wrote once that we had to do the awful, obedient things. I’m kind of wondering what the good is of confrontation. It just seems to make it harder. You have to say hard things. You have to watch your hard things land in the person’s lap. Why should I do it?
When I first started talking to someone about confrontation, this is what I said. “YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.” I sat on her couch and cried, and cried, and shook my head in this determined, no-way-in-hell-will-I-ever-ever-EVER-do-that way. The look of terror on my face scared us both away from talking about how to confront others for a whole three weeks. We talked around it, and about what I was genuinely feeling or hoping, but we didn’t talk about what it would look like to make that real. Even when I said I was ready to talk about confronting some of the people I needed to confront, I thought I would faint dead away on her couch. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had smelling salts hidden in a desk drawer, ready to revive me.
I’m still terrified of it. When I think about confronting someone, saying something, speaking my mind, I make that horrified, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME face. David Nail and Sarah Buxton in that song, “Let It Rain” say it all: “It’s hard to find the perfect time to say something you know is gonna change everything.” Our words change thing. Our voices change things. And confrontation feels like the worst kind: sudden, demanding, forceful. It’s not just you hoping something will shift. It’s you making the shift happen. You reject a possible gradual change for the definite real one. I kind of cry when I think about doing it.
Except. IRHITBTCS, this is a big except: you are already living all that hurt and confusion and torment and anger. You’re just living it under a mask of serenity. Most people can see right through that. Most people know that there is a world under your skin: we all have one. Even when we think that we have tucked it carefully away behind our smile, it leaks out. You avoid meeting that person. You are frustrated, and impatient with others around you. You get quiet – eerily quiet. We read those signals, we interpret them, we begin to be hurt and distanced and eerily quiet, too.
Confrontation means trashing the mask of serenity. It means walking out, emotionally raw, into the room. It takes what you are already living in that world under your skin and offers it to a person. It’s naked. That is terrifying.
But confronting someone shows what they are worth to you. You believe in gulping down your terror and gasping out the words – for the them that they are and the you that you are. You believe in walking out from behind the mask, and that you will both build something better as a result.
Someone with much more wisdom wrote that “No is the power the good witch wields.” And it is: but it’s the beautiful, good, bigger truth is that the good witch wields the power of honest confrontation. Whether that means saying no, or yes, saying “maybe someday,” or “I know I hurt you when I did this, and I’m sorry” or even, “I need to tell you something about what happened between us last week.” It is the power of caring enough about becoming the truthful people you imagine you can be. It is the power of the single, solitary step towards honesty. It is the power of the plunge.
I’ll still feel that horrified YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME feeling, even years down the road. But I keep plunging. And so far, it is always worth it.
How do you handle conflict and confrontation?
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