June 23rd, 2008


In church yesterday, I heard a sermon about how it is that we should argue. (The overall context was conflict within the church, but the discussion used personal examples as well as organizational ones, so I feel comfortable applying the concept outside the initial context.) There really wasn’t anything revolutionary in what was said; it was the same blah blah respect blah blah no ad hominems blah blah blah that I have seen in grocery checkout line magazines, read in self-help books, and heard in therapists’ offices.

I’m not buying it.

In my family, I used to be notorious for my lack of tact. I still sometimes get the distinctive flavor of shoe leather. However, in the interest of survival, not to mention peace, I have learned a few tricks over time, like, say, keeping my mouth shut under certain circumstances.

The trouble is that when I am untactful, I am also honest. With tact, I often water down what it is I have to say to the point that, really, I might as well be silent. How many times have I had arguments in which I essentially made the other person’s point for him or her by prefacing what I had to say with all the respectful disclaimers, by crafting “I statements,” and by choosing dispassionate language? I wonder, if confronted with something truly heinous, if I would feel the same compulsion: “Excuse me… I realize that this may simply be a question of cultural difference or a result of your unfortunate upbringing or your anger against your mother or father coming out as violence against all, but could you please consider stopping raping that child?”

Conflict, as much as I hate it and try to avoid it, exists. It can be a useful process. But it is only as useful as I am honest. I can only resolve what I bring to the conflict, and what I hold back can fester. Further, I want to know the whole of what the person in conflict with me has to say. If I’m a stupid, inconsiderate, fat, ugly, blind, selfish pig, it would be useful to know (actually, I already know, but I would discover that my attempts at self-regulation are failing miserably again…).

Of course, there is always the possibility that I am just flat out wrong. I could use to know that, too.