Irreconcilable Differences – by Dr Bob Rich
Sometimes, differences cannot be reconciled. You have your opinion of what happened and why, and you honestly believe it. I have my opinion of what happened and why, and I honestly believe it, and our opinions are diametrically opposed.
This is then an endless ping-pong game, only it’s lobbing explosive insults, and studied slights, and scoring points in an endless win-lose game that everyone eventually loses.
The solution is not another attempt to decide who is right, to impose my truth on you, or to buckle under and accept what I know to be wrong.
The solution is for both of us to accept our different views and each other. If we look for it, there is a lot of common ground. We have a lot more in common than what separates us. When we put all that past warfare behind us, we can work together for common goals, as parts of a harmonious team. I can respect you as a colleague and comrade, and in time, even come to love you as a friend.
A very wise man said, about 2100 years ago, “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” An equally wise man said, about 2600 years ago, “Anger is a hot coal you pick up to throw at someone. It is your hand that gets burned.” And my grandmother taught me, over 70 years ago, “Every fight starts with you hitting back.”
Those were mutually hurtful times, back then. And since, we have been hitting back, over and over, building the hurt into two mountains of anger and pain. That was then and now is now. Now, let us throw those mountains into the sea, so we can heal our burnt hands and burnt hearts. We no longer need to carry that terrible weight around on our backs.
I say this, and in this way, because mixed metaphors can make a great salad.
So, let us start a new game. I am going to do my best to avoid acting and speaking in a way you may find hurtful, but I am a fallible human, and old habits die hard. So, I am asking you to be my helper. When you notice me doing things the new way, show your appreciation. When you notice me slipping back into the old, destructive way, refuse to respond with anger, anxiety or hurt. Instead, gently and lovingly remind me that I am not doing this any more.
And this is mutual. I want you to ask me to be your helper too, in exactly the same way.
This converts a source of conflict into a pattern of cooperation.
All the above is from the heart, but it is based on a great deal of research.
A huge amount of evidence shows that memory is shaped by emotion, and is distorted over time. Eyewitness testimony is inherently faulty. So, it is counterproductive to base reconciliation on first coming to an agreement about what is true. In any case, even if there is solid evidence to show that one side is right, the other wrong, that still maintains the win-lose dynamic.
Forgiveness and acceptance are among the major messages of all the great religions and philosophies, because they work. They are major tools of positive psychology.
And the tool of mutual help in changing one’s habits is also supported by a great deal of research as a relationship-healing tool.
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Thank you for the honour of hosting me here, Michael.
This essay is actually a part of the collection of short stories and essays I give away for free to followers of my blog, Bobbing Around, which is “Lifting the Gloom: Antidepressant writings.”