There’s been a lot of conflict going on in our world these days. I’ve paid as much attention as I can, although at times I’ve had to turn off the radio and turn away from the newspaper headlines.
Thinking about conflict make me notice how I react (what I think, how I feel) whenever I am in a “micro-conflict.” Those are all the hundreds of interactions we have throughout our days that are not harmonious, but are not really arguments.
They can be as small as the cashier telling you her register is closed as you arrive there with your groceries, or as big as a friend asking you why you are late to your coffee date with her.
Have you ever heard the expression, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything?” I believe this is a true statement and I believe examining my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in these “micro” situations will help me learn how to navigate conflict in more significant situations—like, perhaps, a political situation.
A few days ago, I went to the YMCA with my husband and son to swim. I was with them in the family pool but I kept my eye on the lap swim lanes because I was hoping to get in a swim. The lanes were busy but I finally saw my chance when there was a lane with only two swimmers in it.
I grabbed my goggles and swim cap and headed over to the lane. I waited until one of the swimmers, an older man, came to the end of the lane and asked if I could join them.
The man said I could and I asked if he wanted to stay on one side or swim in a circle.
“Swim in a circle,” he said. “That’s what people usually do.”
He swam off and I jumped into the pool to start swimming. In that moment, I realized I felt corrected, like I’d done something wrong. (Yes, I’m that sensitive.) I found myself starting my swim while having an imaginary conversation with the man about how I thought he and his wife were together and, as they were swimming very slowly, they might want to keep to their own lane. As soon as I realized I was having this imaginary conversation, I let it go so I could enjoy my swim.
On another day, I was talking to a friend about sugar. (Not fruit and natural sugars, but refined sugars and sugar substitutes.) I limit my sugar intake and go long periods without eating sugar, but this friend has taken his restriction of sugar a step further and only eats sugar twice a year, something I aspire to. During this conversation, I found out my friend drinks juice every day. Well, to me, juice = sugar. There’s no difference. It messes with your blood sugar levels and your insulin levels. The only thing worse is soda. That’s worse.
As a physician, I will talk to anyone about healthy eating habits, but on reflection, I realized I had put my friend on a pedestal as far as his eating habits went and I was shocked when he fell off, which made me a little more blunt than I usually am.
While these are tiny incidents in my life, reflecting on them helps me learn to manage conflict in bigger areas of my life, from managing household chores with my husband to talking with a friend who’s political views are opposite my own.
With our current political situation, I think it’s important that each one of us be able to talk to others who disagree with us and keep the conversation going. We need to be able to hear one another out in a civil manner without shutting down. One way to practice that is to use these micro-conflicts to increase our ability to stay present and listen, even when we disagree with others.
How do you manage conflict in your day-to-day life?