We’re all peace and love and light, yes? The idea that we are, and that we should be, causes no end of trouble and I think sometimes adds to conflict. The reality is that there are many people in this world who do not get on with each other. It need not mean that either party is a terrible person (some people do terrible things though, this is a real issue). Sometimes, some of us rub each other up the wrong way. Sometimes we’re too similar to find each other bearable. Sometimes we bring out the worst in each other.
If we don’t feel obliged to be all peace, love and light, it’s possible to just acknowledge the problem and step away from each other. Distance is a great cure for friction. It doesn’t even take much distance – a little facebook unfriending, a little staying away from each other’s blogs, a little physical distance in other situations.
I spent years struggling with the mad belief that I should be so lovely, so infinitely flexible, accommodating, helpful, patient etc etc that everyone would like me. Everyone. Never mind how inherently nauseating that would be if I managed to pull it off – the human equivalent of a beige carpet with the inevitable stains covered up by equally beige rugs. The day I realised it was fine if people didn’t like me, my life got a good deal easer. I don’t have to please and appease everyone. I may be a people-pleaser by nature, but I can choose how and where to do that.
Giving myself permission not to like everyone has been liberating. I do not give myself permission to hassle, troll or otherwise give people a hard time though – with the exception of politicians and other people in places of real power who may need calling to account now and then. Other flawed, messy people doing their own things might not be to my liking. I allow myself to move away from them. The endlessly dull people, the mean spirited, the controlling, the self-important, the uncooperative and so on and so forth.
I have learned to walk away and try to make as little fuss as possible. When the focus of my irritation responds to me in the same way, its fine. We might even be able to grudgingly respect each other from a safe distance. If they stay out of my face, they can expect I will do the same, because conflict is exhausting and I don’t enjoy it in the slightest. I would rather have a quieter life.
Of course it’s not always that simple. Some people enjoy a fight, and the frisson of conflict. Some people get a kick out of drama, and the scope for being centre stage. Some people need others in their lives to act out specific roles for them so that their stories continue to function. Being cast as someone else’s villain, someone’s oppressor and abuser is awkward if you really don’t want to play. Refusing to put any energy into a conflict is often the most productive way, because the person who feeds on drama and needs a fight doesn’t get much out of the person who isn’t really doing that.
Would that I were an ocean of smooth calm, unsusceptible to waves, but of course I’m not. I have buttons to push, I can be wound up, harassed to the point of losing my temper. If I feel I’ve been treated unfairly, I don’t always manage to go with the conflict-reduction methods. I know from bitter experience that simply removing energy from a situation can mean setting up someone else to be the next victim of the same process, and I don’t always feel at ease with that. Sometimes I get cross, because anger is a necessary part of holding boundaries.
Getting angry with a situation allows us all to hold a sense of self intact and place the problem squarely outside of us. It can be a vital survival skill. Holding the edges is a good thing, but it’s so easy to let defending the boundary turn into attacking the (perhaps imagined) aggressor, and from there it isn’t such a huge leap to doing unto others before they can do unto you, and becoming the problem.
It is ok not to like each other. Another person’s dislike does not invalidate any of us as people. It’s what we do with the dislike that counts.