Mudcat Café message #1033711 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #63595   Message #1033711
Posted By: wysiwyg
11-Oct-03 - 12:04 PM
Thread Name: BS: Fighting fair in arguments
Subject: Upsets
In my experience, it's only in close, honest, individual relationship that one can begin to approximate discovering the real reason for others' behavior. Within such a relationship, one might be able to sensitively and accurately untangle what the person thinks they ought to be doing, and what they think they are actually doing, and why. Understanding the behavior patterns of a group can then have some basis for generalization. The pastoral relationship is an example-- by mutual agreement, a certain relationship is formed so that a view from outside can be approximated. It might lead from there to prayer for the person, or to counsel, or encouragement, or even to a sermon that might address the needs of the majority of the group. But the basis and the motivations are found within the relationship.

So, IMO, from outside that kind relationship, the most useful question is not usually, "Why is so-and-so behaving so badly?" but, rather, "Why do I so often fail to live up to my own values?" Because the funny thing about any rules governing human behavior and interaction is that one can only apply them to oneself, within one's own values, unless one's value system makes it incumbent upon one to judge other people's values and behaviors.

This is a practical matter more than a moral matter, because most of us can only really hope to know our own heart and reasoning process, and that only somewhat accurately. To test this idea, just think of all the times you have been misunderstood because people could only see your outer behavior, and had no idea what you were thinking or feeling at the time, or why. Add to that the times you have realized, in hindsight, how you have sometimes lied to yourself about your thoughts and feelings and motivations, and it soon is clear how inaccurately we perceive ourselves, much less others!

The lovely thing about it all is that we humans are quite capable of making agreements-- not rules-- with one another about how we will try to conduct ourselves in relationship with one another, and choose ahead of time how we will try to untangle the inevitable snarls and missteps in keeping our agreements...

Of course, being human beans, we don't always recall in the moment of upset that there was an agreement and a plan for how to handle things; we often fail to turn our will away from the proclamation of upset towards the resolution of the relational implications.

These upsets tend to cluster around the things we hold as most important. They accumulate, until the topics we find most meaningful are also the most laden with accumulated upset. I know several people for whom this is true to such an extent that if you try to have a friendly conversation about the weather, pretty soon it becomes another retelling of how they were shafted at work, home, and spiritually, and another attempt on their part to "win" what they see as an ongoing battle with everyone they know! There is a broken record playing, stuck on the same-old-same-old, in perpetuity.

One can think one has started a reasonable discussion with a logical, mature adult, only to find that one has inadvertently pressed the "resume play" button for their broken record, right where it is most broken.

In addition to upsets clustered around particular topics, unique to each person, a lot of upsets accumulate just on the topic of "discussion" or "argument," itself. So even if the topic proposed for discussion is not on someone's personal broken record, their tools to conduct the discussion or argument may have had all their safety features disabled.   

I think the tendency to look to changing others' behavior in order to restore our own comfort level has to do with the fact that in the short term, we can actually influence how others behave towards us; in response to our own action, others can decide they want to behave differently towards us. The inner experience of real change in the "offender's" attitude is what we may really be after, but others are as slow to change as we are, so that's not a realistic expectation. But temporarily, if we squawk "Stop that!" loud enough, whatever has re-activated our upset might be suspended long enough that we can recover our balance. We mistake that for real progress in dealing with people, and we come to rely upon it as a tool. The alternative is doing our own interior work to change, so that what once made us so uncomfortable is now an area of comfortable, flexible response. That's too long-term a view for human wiring, most of the time; a lot of us engage in it each time we recall that we meant to do it, especially if we have adopted some discipline that keeps this intention before us in the short-term.

So I think the answer to the question raised is, "Wal, pal, cuz we all human." No getting around that, and our individual and collective imperfection. Being human means that our tendency to upset, and our willingness to look to someone else's behavior to restore our comfort level, make for messy processes.

~Susan