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89 - Curious Over Contentious

Ever faced that difficult conversation you needed to have with someone, but you really didn't want to?

Ever had that difficult person that you'd rather were not in your life?

We've all faced those hard circumstances at one time or another. But what if they didn't have to be that hard. What if we could learn to approach difficult conversations and people with more grace and kindness, and less anger and anxiety.

It's no secret that the world is in a very contentious place. The question for each of us individually is, how are we participating or resisting the energy of that contention?

I remember one such difficult person at one point in my life that I wished I didn't have to deal with.

At the time, I worked on the inventory crew for a large regional retail store called Meijer. We traveled around doing store counts for a dozen stores in the Indianapolis area. Sometimes we'd travel out of town, and stay the night inventorying stores further away. Because we were our own little group, operating from outside of the local store environment, we got to know each other pretty well. We were a pretty tight knit group. Then, along came Linda.

Linda was a short, older, dark-haired spicy Italian lady. She was funny, and fun, but you didn't mess with Linda. She used to tell us stories about how she came after her ex-husband with a kitchen knife, or tried to run him over with her car. As someone who was more timid, and who struggled with anxiety, Linda's strong, forceful personality was hard for me to deal with at times. It wasn't uncommon for us to butt heads, and Linda was more strong-headed than me. Needless to say, I grew more and more wary of my interactions with Linda. On one out-town trip this growing tension came to a head.

We would all meet at a store closer to us when we were traveling to stores further out. One morning Linda and I got into it as we were riding in the company van. I don't remember what the argument was about, but by the time we were both dropped off at the store, Linda was boiling mad. She yelled at me and stormed out of the van and into the store. We both did our work, in separated parts of the store that day, and road home in awkward silence that evening. As Linda was getting out of the van to go home, I handed her a card. That day I had grabbed a card in the store and written her an apology note for what I'd said, and how I'd offended her.

The next morning at work, as soon as she saw me, she gave me a big hug. I could tell that it had touched her, and softened her heart. She had tears in her eyes as she thanked me. I was surprised by this display of affection. I'd never seen this softer side of Linda before. From that time on, things were much better between Linda and I. The tension that had been building between us up to that point was gone, and never came back.

I realized something in that exhange. Linda had had a hard life. She was used to people not treating her well. Out of that, she'd developed this rough and tought exteriour. Plus she was Italian. Because of her past and personality, she approached things with a great degree of defensiveness. That's what I encountered as I got to know her, at first. But after that apology what I encountered was a lady who wanted to be loved and treated kindly, just like everyone else. My kindness had surprised her, and her affection in response had surprised me.

Beneath the exterior of every person is someone who just wants to be loved and accepted for who they are. No one enjoys conflict and contention. Sometimes we have to work at creating space for others to let down their guard. The best way we can do that is to not be garded and defensive like everyone else.

I believe a child-like kindness and curiousity can break through others' defenses, and create the space for more open-hearted relationship. How we approach others can drive them further into their defenses, or draw them out of that defensive stance.

That's why I want to be curious over contenious.

How about you?

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