I’m going to ask you a question which I want you answer honestly. When you think about people in general, do you believe that we are all just doing the best that we can with the lessons we have learnt in life? Or do you believe instead that people just make unwise decisions that lead to living life badly?
This was a question Brene’ Brown asked Russell Brand in a recent podcast about vulnerability.
This is a great question to ask yourself when you are in conflict with a person or you are about to enter into conflict with somebody. It’s preventative in leading to conflict for two reasons: (1) it takes you away from a position of judgment; (2) it pierces the conflict veil of the illusions we create about what has happened, the intention behind them and the type of person that would behave in this way.
Conflict is made worse by our own ego and perceptions. Usually, the stories we make up in our mind about it are a long way off the reality of the situation and this can help you to put things into perspective, gain greater understanding of the other person and of yourself.
How Can They Be Doing The Best They Can ?
Every one of us has been born into circumstances that we had no control over. We all had different degrees of support and love and whilst some of us were extremely lucky to have had loving families and fortunate circumstances, not everyone has learnt the necessary skills to live life in a healthy and productive way.
That’s not an excuse for bad behaviour, it’s just a fact and as much as we would like to tell somebody how to live their life better, it’s actually none of our business and totally pointless.
We all do what we can to survive. We all live our lives with the tools, knowledge and self-awareness that we have now. For some people, that may mean drinking a bottle of vodka a day to mask the pain and anguish they never processed. It could mean reacting angrily when we feel vulnerable or it could mean staying in an abusive relationship because it’s all you’ve ever known.
Again, this is not about putting up with bad behaviour, it’s about accepting that somebody is how they are in their life now and having the boundaries in place to avoid being negatively affected by it.
You’re Not The Judge Of Other People
If you disagree with this and think that people aren’t doing the best they can in life now, then imagine how I felt in this scenario.
A male friend of mine was telling me a about a romance that had gone wrong for him. After the honeymoon period, he complained that his girlfriend was clingy, insecure and didn’t give him the space he wanted. She called him frequently and was irritated when he responded to her after a couple days. She wanted him to meet her friends and family after the fifth date and she would tell him quite firmly that she thought he didn’t communicate well.
After telling me about the other “crazy” things she did, he looked at me and said, “Some women are nuts!”. I sat there in silence. She sounded pretty similar to me and I totally understood why she would feel so frustrated. I felt so judged and offended by this comment because it didn’t take into account her previous relationship experience, her upbringing or how she viewed love. She was just doing the best that she could with the relationship tools she had been taught. Just like me. The same was true of him. His rejection was his way of dealing with intimacy and he wasn’t even aware of it.
How Does This Question Help In Conflict?
You can apply this way of thinking in conflict because it may help you gain more perspective and empathy towards your opponent. It’s real strength is in helping you to be more compassionate towards yourself.
This question takes the focus of the conflict away from you. Whilst it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and emotions about it, our thoughts about it can focus solely on ourself. We emphasise that we are right about the argument, that we have been hurt or that it is because we are culpable in some way, that the conflict occurred. We could avoid this all together by blaming the other person entirely for the conflict which allows us to retain our sense of righteous indignation.
It’s only when we move away from this that we might be able to drop our judgments and simply accept that this person’s behaviour is all they know now.
This question also allows us to take a more compassionate view of our opponent because it instantly humanises them. In conflict, we tend to strip our opponent of their humanity by saying things like, “he’s just an idiot.” This gives us permission to treat them callously in the defence of our position.
This question has helped me to let go of judgments about my own behaviour in conflict. I used to feel shame about expressing my anger during an argument and looking back, a lot of my actions and communications were unskilful. I only know that now because I have devoted time and patience to self-reflection and various communication practices. What helps to release that shame is to realise that I was doing the best that I could with the skills that I had then.
It’s not always easy to gain perspective, to feel empathy or self-compassion, especially when you are caught up in the emotional storm of conflict. This is, however, crucial for preventing conflict from escalating and for resolving it amicably. You may, on the other hand, accept the person for who they are, wish them well and decide that you can no longer be in a relationship with them. That’s a perfectly acceptable and mature response to conflict and one which arises from asking yourself difficult questions.
This kind of attitude also requires you to have solid boundaries in place. Once you start accepting people as they are, you start focusing on what type of behaviour you will and will not accept from them. This, in itself, helps you to take a more constructive approach to conflict.
As always, please feel free to leave a comment, like and share! I’d love to read your thoughts and experiences.