Getting Clear on What You Want

001Conflict happens much of the time because we want something or we don’t want something. Maybe we want to change a process or maintain the status quo when someone else is attempting to initiate a change. The only reason we are in conflict in these situations is because it matters to us; if we didn’t care there would be no conflict.

“A lot of people are afraid to ask for what they want that’s why they don’t get what they want.” -Madonna

But sometimes we find ourselves faced with a decision or a dilemma and we don’t know what we want. Worse yet, sometimes we can’t even tell that we don’t know what we want and we start arguing for something that we don’t value or need or might actually reduce our quality of life. If this happens you have definitely jumped onto the conflict merry-go-round and although it’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of the ride and instinctively hold on for dear life, you are only going around in circles. Get off. 

Getting Clear

What do I really want? What makes sense for me? What is holding me back from saying what I really want? Only you know the answers to these questions. To find these answers you may need to dig around and it might get messy, but the answers are never *out there*, they are always *in here*.

Folks around you like to say what they think you should want or what they would want if they were in your shoes. There are also all those messages from childhood that continue to swim around in our heads telling us how it is and what to do. But how to reach through this sludge to find the nuggets of insight on the inside? Here are some ideas:

  1. Write it out. In a journal. In a poem. Haikus on your iPhone (I have a great collection of those). Morning Pages are a classic hit. When we write we can tell our story and the only audience that really matters – US – will be open and non-judgmental.
  2. Talk it out. Tell your mom, your brother, your friend, your boss, your therapist, your lover. Tell someone with a good ear and a caring disposition. Tell someone who likes you and doesn’t judge you. Tell someone who has confidence in you. Make sure you give back.
  3. Get mad, get sad. Stomping around and yelling when it is safe and private can be eternally useful (‘WHY DOESN’T HE UNDERSTAND??!! HOW THE HELL DID HE GET SO STUBBORN??!! I COULD JUST PUNCH HIM IN THE FACE!!’). So can crying and getting in touch with grief or disappointment (‘How come this always happens to me? I can’t take anymore of this. It’s so unfair.’). Let the feelings flow because they have an ancient wisdom that our thinking brains try to circumvent.
  4. Meditate. This one is new to me but I really like it. My best friend calls meditation her lifeline. I value the relaxation of it, because true thinking arises when our minds are at peace.
  5. Pray. For some this is a type of meditation. It’s all about aligning yourself with a higher purpose. Getting in touch with that has to be a good thing.
  6. Forget about it (AKA relax and have fun). Go bowling with the kids! Huck the football with a friend! Hike down by that cool creek on a hot day that you always think about when you are driving by the trailhead. The message here is similar to to ‘meditate': you will be better in touch with yourself and your best thinking when you are relaxed and happy.
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Safety in Diversity

During my work as a youth addictions counsellor, when I had questions about the union I belonged to my colleagues would frequently mention this man Greg (not his real name, of course, but I swear this guy would be the first person to say, “you can refer to me by my real name on your blog!”) who was the union representative for our organization. Every time Greg came up in conversation the tone of their talk would change dramatically and I inquired about this. The only thing they could say was, “He’s just such a character, so eccentric in his own way; you’ll understand when you meet him.”

Finally I met Greg when he visited our rural satellite office on union business one day. He was in his 60s  and tall, with thinning dyed-brown hair. He was dressed in sneakers, baggy pajama-style 80’s pants, t-shirt, leather jacket, and dark sunglasses. Greg reeked of cigarettes and he smiled easily with a big, sincere grin. He also exuded both confidence and compassion. Greg was clearly an expert on union affairs, so we shortly got down to business and he provided us with the information he had come to communicate. When we concluded our meeting Greg gave us all big hugs before he left.

I ended up working directly with Greg a few times and over recent years I’ve seen him occasionally. The last time I saw him he came to my office on union business and he was wearing actual pajama pants. When our meeting finished I walked Greg out to the reception area and gave him a tight hug. After he walked out the receptionist asked me, “was that one of your previous mental health clients?” When I explained who Greg was, a woman sitting in the waiting room overheard and exclaimed her disapproval of his “highly unprofessional” attire. “Didn’t you see his jacket?” I asked them, “It had the union logo on the front and back.” Neither of them had.

I’m pretty sure my work isn’t the only place where Greg stands out or raises some eyebrows. He is now in his late 60s and he does not conform to any of the norms in this neck of the woods for a male his age. Labels do not conveniently fit Greg, and because of this I feel safer.

In a world where people let their freak flag fly there is room for all of us to show ourselves.

I sing when I’m blasting down the ski hill. I am comfortable with crying in public. And ever since I was old enough to know what it was I have never wanted to be married. Are these things ‘normal’? My clothes and car may appear conventional but I know my perspective is uniquely my own. Sometimes, however, others feel threatened by my personal choices and the way I live.

Earlier this year a rumour circulated around town that I was “inappropriate” with teenagers. That was briefly scary for me, but the worst part was that I received the news from my son. I was upset that he heard someone thought his mom might be a predator of teens. The Boy was not confused about me in the least, but he was angry at the person who told him it might be true. Who starts a story like that?? Probably someone who can’t fathom why a woman could be completely content being single; probably someone who doesn’t think it’s possible for an adult female to have many close and playful relationships with male youth; probably someone who has a picture in their mind of what it means to be a 40 year-old woman and can’t accept evidence that contradicts this picture.

Last month I went on a real, live date with a man. The next day I was with my girlfriend at the dirt jumps and during a break I exclaimed to her, “I went on a date yesterday!” She replied, “Who is the lucky man? Or woman?” That last question filled my heart with encouragement. The fact that we were friends but she had never labeled me with a sexual orientation made me feel like it was safe for me to be whoever I was in this relationship. My friend accepted me whether I was straight, queer, or whatever!

Trying to cram someone into a certain type of box is conflict-inducing behaviour. Please leave it at home.

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Listening When You Disagree

Get Lucky by Katherine Center

There would be a major leap towards peace if we all got better at listening to people whom we disagree with. As I’ve written here before, conflict arises from differences that make us uncomfortable. And there’s a large spectrum of ‘comfort’!

On one side would be completely comfortable where you feel safe and secure. Usually this is in warm, familiar environments and/or with highly familiar people. The other end of the comfort spectrum would basically be fight, flight, or freeze – major fear reactions. Note that ‘fight’, something usually connected with anger, actually arises from fear. This is an excellent piece of writing on how scared we can be about differences and change; so scared that we sometimes act cruelly and violently towards others in deeply unconscious ways.

So when was the last time you talked with someone you really disagreed with? How did that go? Was it a back-and-forth dialogue? Or more of a debate? And what was the emotional climate like?

There is a reason why people tend to hang out with others who are like-minded. It’s way easier and it just feels better!

Being a vegetarian in a group of hunters or a union activist amongst hard-core capitalists might bring up feelings of righteousness, defensiveness, or even aggression. Those feelings don’t usual make us feel very relaxed, willing to open up, or curious. But these last qualities are precisely what are required to make love not war where there is an us-and-them perception.

One of my heroes, Chris Guillebeau, wrote in his first book: “Almost everyone says they are open minded but when it comes down to it most of us are deeply uncomfortable with change.”

Open minded is being able to listen to those who think differently than us. In certain situations it can feel like the other is WRONG in the biggest way, even in a highly dangerous way. It can come down to having the impulse to kill or being terrified they might kill us.

If you ever try to convince someone of your view remember that by doing so you will only further entrench their view. Every time you say ‘but…’ to them, you are being adversarial and argumentative, so that’s the attitude you will get back. It takes a lot of courage to shift our fear of differences to curiosity about differences.

And the number one mistake people make? When letting others air ideas that we have feelings about, we confuse listening to the idea with agreeing with the idea. Listening to opposing views doesn’t have to mean you agree with opposing views! By asking questions that start with ‘what’ and ‘how’ and being genuinely curious about the person who holds the opinion that differs from yours, you will be demonstrating that you are open minded and thoughtful. Validate how the person feels and thinks, and then offer something like, “in my experience…” or “one way I look at it is…” Then you will be actively building the pieces of peace.

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