August 24, 2011
Opinions and judgment in a grudge match
I saw this decal in a car window the other day. I have joked, semi-seriously, that I am Switzerland. A neutral party that doesn't get caught up in conflict. Someone who doesn't offer opinions, remaining uninvolved. It still aspire to see every side of an issue, but of course I have my opinions and judgments. I am not a neutral country.
When I wrote the post If you don't observe them, do irritating people disappear? back in 2009, I was meeting with a marriage and personal counselor as my marriage circled the drain. My thoughts were both jumbled and running deeper than normal back then. Two years down the road, I wonder if I have retained any of the lessons I learned back then.
Recently, a friend has taken it upon herself to point out my opinions whenever I offer them, large or small. Here is a small one - I don't like the current fashion of baseball caps with perfectly flat brims. If they are worn at a 45 degree angle to the face, I think it looks even sillier. Opinions on trivial subjects, I have them.
I am not sure what prompted this exercise, but it may have been that I said I was more easy-going than most. That I don't have rigid ideas of how things should be. That if things don't go the way I expect, that I am not as easily derailed by it. More to the point, I have fewer expectations that things will go the way I expect.
But like all good friends, she has challenged my self-perception. I never thought I was, but I will say it here to be clear - I am no Zen Master rising above it all. I am not coated in Teflon. I get frustrated and irritated, and things and people piss me off just like everyone else. But back to the point of the previous post. Do these irritations grow into grudges, and do I lug them around wherever I go.
My friend reminded me the other day about something that had pissed me off a couple weeks earlier. I had forgotten all about it, but when she brought it up, the irritation came back and my voice took a quick edge. I didn't think I was carrying it around, but it clearly still bothered me.
To use the example of the cigarettes in the street from the previous post, I wasn't consciously thinking about the irritation after I left it behind, or letting stewing frustration alter my day. I wasn't using this one behavior to paint a picture of callous disregard by my neighbor and society. But it is something that I am not happy about, and if I was sharing a beer with another neighbor and he brought up the cigarette problem, I would be able to speak passionately about it.
But I do my best not to harbor grudges. I have seen friendships torn apart over what (as an outsider) seems like trivial slights or disagreements. No one believes the exact same things you do, and everyone has different beliefs in what is important in this world. There will always be conflict as long as you are alive and interacting with others. It is just something that is a part of everyone's waking life.
Another friend brings up slights that happened in high school twenty years earlier. I can't imagine carrying that sort of thing top of mind for that long. Whether it is conscious choice or a poor memory, I just don't have the mental space for it. And like I said in the previous post, you are suffering by carrying it around when the person who offended you has long forgotten it.
This is not to say that you shouldn't stand up for what you believe in, but if you let a friendship fall over a single incident, well, soon you won't have friendships to lose.
I try to follow this rule (yes I have rules): If something bothers me enough that I can't let it go and it dominates my mind more than it should, I do something about it. If it doesn't bother me enough, I do my best to chalk it up to the world not being exactly the way I want it. Of course the risk is that I am burying resentments rather than dealing with them, and that is something I will continue to watch for.
I am not Switzerland. There are issues that I am not neutral on. But I like to think I keep things in perspective, and I try not to pretend my opinions are truth. I try not to read any malice when there is none, or let a single incident bloom into permanent judgment. But of course I have memories and the baggage to go with them, and maybe ironically, I am struggling with forgiveness right now. But that is a subject for another post.