Why is it so difficult for us to be open and honest in relationship with each other? I guess I know some of the answers. We want people to like us. We are afraid of the repercussions if we share what we’re really thinking. We have become so accustomed to interacting in the polite ways that rest on the surface of interpersonal interaction that diving below to the murky depths is something we feel ill-equipped to do. We don’t spend enough time really thinking to even know what we think about things. We want to be peacemakers. The list could go on.
There’s no doubt that virtue can be found in avoiding a cascade from the brian and out the mouth without filtering. We all think things that even we don’t like. Things that truly don’t need to be shared. At the same time, I fear we lose much of the relational potential life holds because of our unwillingness to get real.
I’m most interested in this topic as it relates to conflict. In any consistent relationship there is bound to be some kind of conflict that arises, whether it is spoken or not. And when that happens we become pragmatists, or even pagans in the sense that we seek what we believe will bring us the least discomfort. There are three main ways this manifests itslef. 1) This may be saying things that aren’t true. 2) It may be saying things that are true but disguising them to make them seem pleasant. 3) Or it may be avoiding conflict all together. For instance, if I speak to Michelle in an unkind way (this is purely hypothetical, I didn’t do this just yesterday) she might follow any of these three courses. She might say nothing is wrong (which isn’t true). She might say that what I said hurt her but somehow the situation that arose was her fault (true that I hurt her, but doubtful it was her fault). Or she might say nothing, allowing the tension to breed. At this point I could contribute by also saying nothing and hoping eventually the tension just recedes.
And let’s be honest (if I don’t do that in this post I’m really in trouble), there are reasons we use these strategies even though they don’t lead to anything positive. There is the chance that honesty can fracture a relationship, even destroy it. There is a really good chance that if people are honest with us they’ll clearly identify some things we don’t like about ourselves, things we didn’t see before. Then we have to deal with that. We may rationally deduce that an affable relationship is better than no relationship. But if we settle for what’s easiest we’ll also miss out on what’s best.
So what to do with all this? I don’t really know. I just know it’s important. And I know that in engaging tension or conflict you have to have positive and loving motives or you’re doomed to fail. Any thoughts?