Boundaries, Conflict, Forgiveness — Oh My!

Photo: Oscar Keys

When you ask a question and the answer is no, that means the conversation is over.

“No” is not an invitation to push back, argue, convince, emote, cajole, or complain your way to a different outcome.

The time you spend fussing about doing a thing is often how long it would’ve taken to get said thing done.

You can accept not getting your way without a meltdown.

“No” does not mean, “I don’t love you.”

“No” does not mean, “You are unlovable.”

“No” does not mean, “I’m angry at you.”

“I’m angry at you” does not mean, “I don’t love you.”

“I’m angry at you” does not mean, “You are unlovable.”

* * *

Interpersonal conflict is part of life. It is absolutely unavoidable. It is something many of us are terrified of, unskilled at, and reactive to.

Making mistakes is also an absolutely unavoidable part of life. No matter how conscientious, thoughtful, mindful, caring, and considerate you are, you will have blindspots. You will misjudge. You will say a thing or ask a question or make a request and later think, what was I thinking?

That is the moment when learning begins.

That is the moment when a voice in your head is very likely to start up, likely with something harsh and berating, such as, “You idiot!”

That is the moment when your heart may start racing, when your bowels will loosen, when your hands will get sweaty. Fight, flight, freeze, fawn — one or more of these will appear in a nanosecond and your body will go into a system of red alert.

* * *

I recently made a mistake. In the moment, it didn’t seem like a big deal, though I could feel an undercurrent of pressure and rushing that should’ve been signals if I’d been paying closer attention.

Person A wanted to join Persons B and C for an outing. (My role: Intermediary between these parties.) Persons B and C had preexisting plans, that weren’t 100% ideal for Person A. Person A pushed on me to ask Persons B and C if they could change their plan to accommodate this.

Had I been more in tune with my values at this moment — such as respect, connection, trust, and honesty — I would have told Person A, either you can change YOUR plans in order to join Persons B and C, or you can let it go.

Instead, I caved and asked Persons B and C if they could change THEIR plans.

Why did I make this decision? Because this is real life: Messy, stumbling, incurably imperfect. If only we could see the whole picture in each and every moment.

Then came later. Because of going to an event 45 minutes later than planned, all the involved persons missed the highlights of the event, which Person C in particular had been looking forward to for months, perhaps even longer. Person C was hysterically sad. (It may be noted that Person C is a very young person, whose sadness was not unreasonable.)

And so it was that Friday night, I received a text from Person D, telling me how hurt she was by my asking Persons B and C to change their plans to accommodate Person A.

In a word, it sucked.

In another word: I made a mistake.

And there was no way to undo that, no way to go back and change it, no way to fix it. All I could do was take responsibility, notice what I wished I had done and said instead, and apologize six ways to Sunday for my poor judgment call.

Would the relationships all be ok?

Of course, that was the fear.

In a word: Loss.

Person A wrote a card with a very sweet drawing and put it in Persons B, C, and D’s mailbox.

I invited Person D to go for a run the next day. We met up in the driveway and gave each other a hug. We talked about how much we mean to each other. We talked about our families of origin and how we learned (or didn’t learn) to meet conflict, anger, and hurt feelings.

Persons B, C, and D forgave Person A and me. We all learned some things.

* * *

“No” means no.

“Yes, this is how that will work for us” is not an invitation to negotiating alternatives.

Boundaries are healthy.

Relationships worth keeping can withstand some conflict.

You cannot control another person’s reaction. We all bring whole lives to our responses to things, and there is almost guaranteed to be other stuff going on that may not be visible to the naked eye.

You are allowed to be angry.

You are allowed to feel hurt.

You are allowed to be scared.

You are allowed to make mistakes.

You are allowed to apologize. But it is not up to you whether or how your apology will be received. Not every song has a nice major chord of resolution at the end.

* * *

You are not required to learn form these experiences, but your world will be richer and your relationships stronger if you do. And there is no avoiding them, lest we live in a fragile, entitled state of needing everything to go our way.

Friends can become family. Family is not a guarantee of closeness.

Anger and hurt are inevitable and normal parts of being a human.

Forgiveness is a choice, not a duty.

Communication takes effort.

It’s worth it.

* * * 

Want to spend 2019 exploring how small but mighty words (like “honesty” and “courage”) show up in your everyday life?

Join me for Truth: A Year-Long Exploration of Personal Values.

Who’s Who: A Writing Exercise for Uncovering Unconscious Bias


In the spirit of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s “you can’t change what you don’t see,”  here’s a journaling exercise to do on your own. The intention is to explore the many unconscious images, biases, assumptions, and stereotypes we carry.

Get out a notebook or journal or open a blank document on your computer or a note in your phone. Knowing no one is going to judge or even read your responses, be completely honest and write down the first thing that comes to mind as you read the following questions:

When you hear “a doctor,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a lawyer,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a social worker,” who do you picture?

When you hear “an activist,” who do you picture?

When you hear “an artist,” who do you picture?”

When you hear “a threat,” who do you picture?

When you hear “an elected official,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a single mom,” who do you picture?

When you hear “an addict,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a leader,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a teacher,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a veteran,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a liberal,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a victim,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a philanthropist,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a conservative,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a small business owner,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a convinct,” who do you picture?

When you hear “clergy,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a homeless person,” who do you picture?

When you hear “a human,” who do you picture?

We are more effective as change-makers when we start out knowing what we’ve internalized about who’s who in the world.

Feel free to add your own questions, too.

On the Corner: Writing at the Intersection(s) (NEW GROUP!)

I live on the corner of
gay pride and white privilege
Shabbat Shalom and Hear Me Roar
cheerleader and saboteur
working mama, entrepreneur

I live on the corner of
prolific and bone dry
passionate and tongue-tied
of please and no, thank you
of bite and I’ll spank you…

I live on the corner of
pogrom and protest
straight As, nuclear families
of divorced and remarried
polite and contrary

I live on the corner of
tightly wound and free spirit
of fear and Just Do It
petite and dysmorphic
Soul Sister, Third Daughter

I live on the corner of
so many streets
traffic’s nonstop but nobody beeps
there’s no one to tell me to stop or to go
and that’s why I write, ’cause how else will I know?

On the Corner: Writing at the Intersection(s)

On-the-Corner-lg

Photo: Molly Porter

We all stand at the corner of so many identities. “Parts” of ourselves — some embraced and some off-limits, some seen and some invisible, some conditioned and some chosen.

Join me this fall for a brand new four-week writing group.

Who we feel ourselves to be, how the world see us, and ultimately what we choose to bring (and have no choice about bringing) with us into our daily lives — these have a huge impact not only on our own experience of segmentation and/or wholeness, but on those around us, be they family, coworkers, community members, or the world at large.

In a cultural and political climate that has us contend daily with questions of authenticity, bias and prejudice — our own and others’ — and how to cultivate kindness and acceptance while acknowledging and respecting our wildly different selves, I believe that writing has the power to help us get to know ourselves, and thus each other, better.

What Will We Write About? 

Through a combination of guided freewriting and other creative exercises on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we’ll explore our many identities in a safe, secret space where nobody gets to be wrong.

Week One

On the Corner :: Naming all the cross-streets
* We’ve Lost Touch :: Reconnecting with what was never lost
Forbidden Fruit :: Getting cozy with what you cast out

Week Two

* The Surface of Things :: How the world sees you
In the Mirror :: How you see yourself
I Am From :: Naming and claiming your sources

Week Three

* True or False :: Early messages you believed or doubted
* Shake It Up :: Exploring the change you want to see
* Be the Change :: Moving towards action and embodiment

Week Four

* Completion and Staying Connected

Dates:

Monday, September 19 — Friday, October 14

Cost:

With the intention of this group being widely inclusive, I’m offering three different (confidential) payment tiers, based completely on the honor system. Please choose according to an honest self-assessment:

  • Tier 1: Folks who have to scrimp, squirrel, and save to participate in this kind of group.
  • Tier 2: Anyone who’s moderately comfortable and has some disposable income.
  • Tier 3: Those of you who have the ability and desire to pay it forward.

:: $63 ::
btn_buynow_lg

:: $126 ::
btn_buynow_lg

:: $189 ::
btn_buynow_lg