It’s Christmas Eve, traditionally a time to celebrate peace on Earth, so it may seem a bit strange to be grateful for conflict. But conflict has taught me many valuable lessons over the years, and sometimes it is the toughest teachers to whom we owe the greatest debt.
I was raised in a house which prized the appearance of peace above all. My parents disagreed via icy silences and held their discussions–I assume they held discussions–behind closed doors, out of sight of my sister and me. I rarely heard raised voices between my parents; their expressed anger was only toward us kids.
Unfortunately, that led me to believe that the only correct way to deal with conflict was to bury it, which meant that, when my first marriage hit its inevitable rough patch, I was wholly unprepared to deal with it in an adult manner. When I got engaged a second time, I swore not to make the same mistakes, and my fiancée and I went into counseling before we actually said our vows. It was the best thing that we ever could have done.
I had always been a good listener; now I learned to be a good communicator, to express even uncomfortable thoughts in a way that allowed for a resolution. Rather than attacking and putting my partner on the defensive, or suppressing my feelings until I exploded, I learned that I could safely express pain and even anger without it being the end of the relationship. That lesson lasted all of about a year. I had to take a few refresher courses over the years to keep my skills honed.
One of the tools I’ve found most valuable is my aikido training. On the mat, we practice reacting to attacks with equanimity, neither shrinking from the aggression nor reacting aggressively in kind. That same mental stance is valuable in my day to day life far more than any martial application would be. And the key ingredient, the sine qua non of our practice, is that one person has to agree to attack, to provide the aggressive energy that allows the defender to deal evenly and safely with the attack.
So on this silent night, with the family readying ourselves for a day of laughing and arguing and sniping and hugging tomorrow, I am grateful for the conflicts, both real and staged, that have taught me to take it all in stride, and to recognize what a tremendous gift I have been given in the people who share my life.
I hope your gifts are as wonderful.