Conflict Not Quite Triggered
I was riding my bicycle down Christie Street with the wind at my back, late for work and pushing hard when a woman in a parked car suddenly opened her driver’s door. I swerved, barely missed hitting her, and braked to a stop. Adrenaline soared. I was aware of my heart pounding as I turned to unleash a stream of insults.
Then I saw myself. In a flash of insight I was looking down at the furious cyclist confronting the shocked driver. I knew exactly what would happen. I would shout – she would get defensive. I would insult her and she would respond by giving me, this crazy cyclist, the finger. She would get on with her day feeling that she was the victim. So I shifted the script.
“I doubt you were intending to harm me,” I said as softly as I could manage. “You probably just forgot to check your mirror, but that isn’t an innocent error. If I had been injured he cops would have charged you. Not checking your mirror is actually a crime.”
“You’re right,” she replied. “I’m terribly sorry. I’m just glad you aren’t hurt. I really will be more careful from now on.”
I climbed back on my bike and rode on, still shaken, but feeling resolved. As a cyclist, I had been in altercations before, but this was the first time I came away with anything approaching a sense of satisfaction.
When you are upset with someone, whether in a brief encounter like this, or even more when a long term relationship goes sour, your mind obsesses with every fault of the other, running a self-justifying story loop that goes around and around in your head.
Even when every crime you recite is true, you only tell yourself half the story. Your side. A similar loop of half-truths is going around in the other person’s mind.
It’s a great way to prepare for battle. A terrible way to resolve conflict.
It helps to remind yourself of your goal. Is revenge your objective? If so then go ahead, keep demonizing your enemy. But if you want to end the conflict and move on, try mindfulness.
Let’s be clear about that term. Mindfulness isn’t an elevated or exotic state. It’s the simple practice of observing yourself doing whatever you’re doing. You breathe all the time. Chances are, however, you weren’t aware of the last breath you took.
The same is true of the emotions you feel and the stories you rehearse in your head. They usually happen automatically. You’re barely aware of the loop. Mindful awareness simply entails slowing down to observe what you’re thinking and feeling. Then time seems to expand slightly, permitting a pause between impulse and response.
The next time you’re in conflict it might not erupt. You may become aware, instead, that the gap is not so great between you and your opponent.