Posts Tagged ‘dealing with conflict’

As often happens when performing mundane tasks, I was surfing through samples of bathroom tiles when it really hit me. The thought has been coming for a while—several months, if I’m honest—but even so, yesterday’s version was a mule-kick.

Strokes, heart attacks, cancers . . . relatives, friends, icons of my time: Death has been stalking my cohort, scything us down, bringing in the sheaves.

When combined with retirement broaching the horizon (I retire in a little over 300 days), it has become impossible not to look ahead toward my own end game. Facing facts, if I’m lucky, I probably have about twenty years before I hit my sell-by date. Twenty years. That may sound like a long time to some of you but let me tell ya, by the time you hit 65, it’s a blink, a flash, a mere moment. I’ve been working for fifty years. I’ve been married for forty years. I’ve been working for the same company for thirty years. I’ve lived in the same house for over twenty years. And those years, with all their challenges, their dreams, their lessons, they’ve sped by in a breathless rush, leaving only dusty memories.

So, twenty years does not feel like a long time, especially when it’s the final act of my story. It’s not like I had lofty ambitions. It’s not like I’m afraid I won’t “make my mark” or “live up to my potential” in my remaining time—I gave up on those tropes long ago—but I did expect that the path we’d all been traveling for most of my existence would plod along in the same basic direction, rather than taking the sharp U-turn that it has.

I think I can be forgiven for having had faith in our progress as a species. My earlier life saw increases in protections—for minorities, for women, for the environment, for consumers—and ever-greater acceptance of people as individuals. We survived wars and riots, assassinations and upheavals, and emerged confident, devoted to the betterment of society and cooperation between nations. Things were still far from perfect—far from acceptable, truth be told—but steps were being taken, and progress was being made, and I had faith in the trendline; I could see its upward arc and imagined my future, following it as a guide.

All that has changed. Or perhaps it only seems to have changed; more likely, I simply misjudged the breadth of human compassion and the influence of our “better angels.” While some . . . many . . . still work toward a society of inclusion and mutual respect, of peace and shared prosperity, many others live the dogma of exclusion, bent on the imposition of control over those unlike themselves.

Too many are now governed by the philosophy of NOT.
NOT this. NOT that. Thou shalt NOT.
–Thou shalt NOT teach about bad things in our past.
–Thou shalt NOT allow those unlike yourself to have the same opportunities as you.
–Thou shalt NOT even respect the facts.

The trendline of the next twenty years—likely my last—has been pretzeled into a knot, a strange loop from which we may not emerge while I live, if ever. And that’s a bitter pill.

The thing is, it’s so easy to be kind. In fact, it’s easier to be kind than it is to be hateful, angry, cruel. All that rage, it takes energy; it eats away at the psyche, corroding the soul.

I don’t have an answer, other than to be kind myself and advocate for kindness. Conflict has been with us forever—it’s part of our nature—so there will always be times when being kind is a challenge.

But it’s better to fail at being kind than never to try.


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