There’s a saying that goes something like this, “There’s your side, there’s the other’s side and then there’s the truth.”
If you’ve successfully made it past the age of two, I can absolutely promise that this statement applies to you. And I am pretty darn sure you have the battle wounds of arguments, disagreement and conflict to show for your troubles.
You see, we can’t help but bend reality to fit our perception. If we were to attempt to acknowledge and process every possible permutation of life experience, we would go insane. Imagine being in a group meeting and having access to everyone’s thoughts, feelings, opinions and backstory. You could observe every single point of view—every complexity—simultaneously. How could you possibly deal with that amount of data input? You would exist in a permanent state of overwhelm or confusion, or both. And as sanity is important for the survival of the human race, we have been gifted with skills in our toolkit that filter out what seems unimportant and unnecessary—skills known as distortion, deletion and generalization.
Humans are meaning-making beings. We seek out patterns and norms that give us both a sense of identity and a connection with the world itself. And we like things to be consistent and certain. We want to know that we will have our marriage, job, friends, good health and sound mind tomorrow… and the next day, and the next. Having cornerstones in life allows us to get on with dealing with the day-to-day curve balls, fluctuations and emergencies. In other words, as long as we have some certainty, we feel we can cope with the unexpected and the unknown.
In truth, certainty only really exists when life is conforming to our expectations. Sometimes it does and then we get lured into assuming that it will continue to do so. But, of course, it doesn’t! Don’t we get frustrated, anxious, angry or demoralisied when things aren’t going our way? That’s the part of us that craves certainty. And it has a full-blown hissy fit when our expectations aren’t being met.
So here we are—you and your story, me and mine. All doing the absolute best we can to live happy and peaceful lives. In order to have a sense of normality and to feel like we are exerting some kind of control over our external circumstances, we can be far too quick to dismiss or even attack anything that threatens the stability of our life story. Distortion, deletion and generalisation are cunning charlatans that not only present a believable story but also successfully invalidate any other reasonable (and, daresay, truthful) account of events.
If you don’t agree with me—or worse still, judge and criticize me for my choices or actions, if you make me feel like my story is doubtful or even wrong, then I am probably going to defend it with every ounce of my being. Why? Because the only other alternative is to choose uncertainty, to accept that when it comes to a particular situation, person or experience that we just don’t know. And not knowing can be a very scary place to be. If you don’t know, then what control over life do you have?
Now, if we have two opposing viewpoints and we both fear not knowing, we will fight to prove our rightness. It matters so much to us because accepting a perception that contradicts our story will mean we have to give it up. And if we don’t have our story, what will be left? Letting go of a story often involves giving up a belief system and an identity— and that could be an identity we have worked tirelessly over many years to create. We might not want to give it up. We might fear what lies on the other side. We might not be ready.
Isn’t it easy to understand how small conflicts can escalate so quickly? Two people, who would rather fight than be wrong, can create a full-out war over the smallest disagreement.
So how you move beyond the pattern of story survival? There’s no polite way to say it, you have to own your sh*t! No one is demanding that you give up anything important to you. If you want to continue to believe a perception, you are entitled to do so. It’s your view and you are free to share it. But at least claim that perception for yourself rather than forcing it on others. Express your opinion, if that is what you need to do, AND own it as yours. You may say something like “From my point of view, I see the situation like this…”
And then let the other person have their standpoint and articulate it too. They may feel equally attached to their viewpoint. They may have exactly the same reasons as you do for defending their story. It matters to them as much as yours matters to you. They might not want to give it up. They might fear what lies on the other side. They might not be ready.
Let’s approach conflict with just a little bit more understanding—remembering there’s your side, there’s the other’s side and then there’s the truth.
Are you struggling with a conflict situation and need support? Feel free to contact me to find out if coaching could help you resolve things.