On the Value of Confrontation

I began writing this post as a beautifully parsed, blog-optimized list. We all love lists, and I was ready to give you 3 great reasons why you should confront more people in your life. But I decided that this is much better expressed as an anecdote. I want to tell you how I came to value confrontation and why it is so important to me.

It all goes back to my mother. These things often do, don’t they? Unlike many parents, Mom never gave me “because I say so” as a reason for anything. I always received a rationale and was encouraged to disagree. Being the obstinate child that I was, my mother and I often debated. Being the precocious child that I was, I often won.

Mom was never afraid to talk things out, to speak up when I upset her, or to listen to me when I had similar complaints. Doing this created a space of openness and honesty between us that we maintained into my adulthood. She was the first person I told when I had sex with my now-fiancee (spoiler: she was not happy about it). She was the first person in my family I told that I did not believe in God (again — not happy). But because we were not afraid of confronting each other, we were able to learn from and understand one another. It was hands-down the best part about our relationship.

Far too many people — women in particular — avoid conflict in their lives. They think that confrontation somehow damages their bonds or makes people not like them. This is simply untrue. Good relationships are strengthened by disagreements. They inspire trust and communication between both parties. In contrast, the people and alliances that cannot withstand conflict are not worth your time. They will eventually fail either way.

If having good relationships wasn’t enough, consider this: I hated my mother. I hated her because the resentment I held for her festered and grew in me like a mold through my life. I never told her about the continual emotional distress she placed on me. Despite all of our conversations, all of our openness, I couldn’t tell her that one of the largest sources of pain in my life was her.

Mom is dead. I can’t resolve our conflict now. I carry that animosity today — and may for the rest of my life. I don’t want that anger, but I can’t get rid of it. Perhaps if I had not been afraid to tell her, to disagree, to conflict like we always did, I would remember Mom with much more fondness than I do today.

So when someone — anyone — hurts you, weigh your reaction carefully. Consider the benefits to be gained if you confront them. Consider the price you might pay if you don’t. Now, doesn’t a little disagreement seem like it might be worth it?

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6 thoughts on “On the Value of Confrontation

  1. This is fantastically said. It has already proven to worthy of sharing with people in my life who struggle to talk about the hard things.

    • There are good and bad ways to confront someone when they hurt you. I may write on this in the future, but I would highly recommend looking up conflict resolution courses. Some quick tips:

      *Always address your concerns from your point of view. That is, don’t say “You were a jerk!” say something like “I felt hurt when you said x to me.” This takes the blame and the emphasis off of the other person, which is one of the best ways to keep hurting someone’s feelings.

      Unfortunately, sometimes hurts feelings are inevitable. I am sure I would have hurt my mother very deeply if I had confronted her about all of the things she said and did to me that affected me negatively. However, we might have been able to work past it and have that much better of a relationship in the future.

      As long as both parties are willing, hurt feelings are temporary in confrontation. It’s only when you don’t talk it out that hurt feelings are permanent.

  2. “In contrast, the people and alliances that cannot withstand conflict are not worth your time. They will eventually fail either way.”

    Couldn’t have said it better.

  3. I totally agree with this. So often a meaningful, worthwhile discussion will end abruptly because one party is afraid of offending someone through difference of opinion. I try to pursue clarity over agreement. I’m not offended by disagreement — on the contrary, I’m flattered by the opportunity to engage on a topic on which my opinions differ.

    Well said, Gina!

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