By: Sandy Churchill
Conflict is everywhere. Turn on the news—people can’t seem to have a conversation if they hold different views. Road rage is steadily on the rise. We hurt people without meaning to—and why? Because we are flawed people living in a dysfunctional world. We sometimes say things we don’t mean, step on each other’s feelings, act impulsively, or assume motives in others that are unfair, exaggerated, or simply wrong.
The golden rule of treating others how you would like to be treated is a tough one when it comes to hurt feelings. I often discuss the concept of justice versus mercy with my teen students, and they love the idea of justice because it is fair. But mercy? Don’t we all want mercy when the offender is one of us? The same applies to conflict and perceived offenses that can ruin an afternoon, a situation, or a relationship.
But what if we pause long enough to try a different tack? I have a cousin who is wonderful at this. She advises me and others to “tell yourself a different story.” Instead of nursing old wounds, gathering allies to build your case, or feeding resentment, you step into the other’s shoes and find a way to “justify” the offense. Simply put, you find a reason the person behaved badly, and you work to find understandable motives that led to the situation. It matters little if you line up all the details and find a completely accurate series of happenings that facilitated the comment or action that caused hurt. The key is nurturing empathy and compassion.
Telling myself that a person felt embarrassed by a poor decision, fearful about a perceived rejection, or outright threatened in a given situation can help shine the light of understanding and compassion on a moment in time and sometimes save a friendship or relationship with a colleague, neighbor, or family member.
I truly believe most of us are doing the best we can, day in and day out, and we don’t mean to hurt each other. Nonetheless, it is impossible to emerge from any relationship unscathed. A bad mood, lack of sleep, chronic worry, or misjudgments can contribute to us being less than our best with those we care about. So maybe “telling yourself a different story” is about giving each other grace, understanding, and a little “wiggle room” to be met with compassion when we fall short of our very best.
So for me, I am going to continue to “tell myself a different story” on those days when somebody ticks me off, hurts my feelings, or acts in a way I cannot otherwise understand. Perhaps the same grace will circle around when I am the offender.