The Fine Art of Avoidance
A few years back, when I was just starting to hit my stride as a presenter on subjects like interpersonal communication, I had a bobble. Well, let’s be fair, it was a miscommunication which led to an absence which led to an assumption which led to anger which led to confrontation – all with another presenter at the same event.
To our credit, we managed, through our seething, to talk through what had actually happened, and realized pretty clearly where the original misunderstanding had occurred. We also saw how it had escalated into a Big Deal, and how the Big Deal had disappeared once we came to a place of mutual understanding.
Unfortunately, neurochemical creatures that we are, we still had all that anger flowing through our bodies, even though rationally we knew there was no reason for it. I remember clearly sitting across the room, staring at each other, until finally she said “You know, we teach this shit – you’d think we’d be better at it.”
Nope. I’m afraid not. If there’s one thing that every personal development blog ought to have in the heading, it’s “Consider the source.” We are all of us every bit as fallible and human as the next blogger, and in some cases moreso, in that horrible way that overconfidence makes you more vulnerable.
A Mirror Darkly
There are, however, occasional advantages to being a student of human nature and habit change. Because I’m constantly analyzing and observing and categorizing behaviors in myself and others*, sometimes I can recognize traits in others that I also find in myself. If that’s a good trait, hurrah! If it’s not, though, then it’s up to me to figure out how to change it.
Example 1: I had a roommate who had the infuriating need to be the authority on whatever subject was being discussed. If he wasn’t, he would fake it, and if he couldn’t fake it, he would change the subject to something he was an authority on. It made for some pretty awful conversations. I’m not sure how many years it was before I realized that the thing that I really disliked about the habit was something that I did as well. Happily, that’s a very easy trait to get rid of, and at least once in any conversation I remind myself: Shut the BLEEP up and listen, Gray.
Example 2: After my second divorce (what I affectionately call “The Big Breakup”) I did not handle things terribly well. I pretty thoroughly embraced the role of “Broken Man” and “Tragic Figure” and a few other icons. This lasted a couple of years, in fact, until one evening when I was driving from D.C. to Baltimore with a friend who had also gone through his own Big Breakup. His had happened decades before, and he had absolutely perfected the role of Tortured Soul to the point where it was irresistible to a certain type of woman. It’s hard to make relationships last in that kind of environment, though, and so he’d gone from relationship to relationship, each one validating his role as The Man Who Loses. I remember looking at him, my friend who I liked, and thinking I don’t want to become you. It wasn’t easy, but whatever road I’m on, it ain’t that one anymore.
Example 3: Recently I learned of a couple of friends of mine who broke up. I won’t go into any details; suffice it to say that the person who initiated the breakup did so in a very ungracious way. Breakups suck no matter what, mind you, there is no “good way” to break up unless you’re Gwyneth Paltrow. But that person was particularly cruel and uncaring, and the saddest thing was that I believe I understand why. I believe there was a point earlier in the relationship where a difficult conversation about love needed to take place. But it’s a difficult conversation, and it’s easier to put it off, to keep in inside.
And then the next thing gets held inside, and the next opportunity is missed, and you hold that inside too, until there’s this big ball of Unsaid throbbing inside your head, which often feels like Trapped. My friend, I believe (this is all supposition) reached a point where too much was Unsaid, and the only way out of Trapped was to rip everything down, including my other friend. It was a very sad story.
I don’t want to do that. Shortly after learning that, I took stock of my own situation, and recognized that there were some of my own Difficult Conversations that I’d been keeping to myself, because it’s easier to do elliptical and watch Supernatural and write personal development blogs. But I could see, quite clearly, how avoiding this difficult conversation about love could lead to Unsaid and Trapped and I, like any other human, might head into that land of Ungracious Actions.
I had the conversation. It was difficult. It was scary. But it happened, and things got easier. There are more conversations to be had, and there’s no certainty other than that they will happen. But that one path, the one that led to the kind of pain my friends went through – perhaps that was avoided.
Do What Is Necessary
Easter is a time commemorating the recovery from tragedy. Of life after darkness. Regardless of your religious affiliation, I hope you will take a moment this weekend to take stock of your own loves – for we all have many, right? Pick one, pick a few, but be honest with yourself: is there something that you’ve been avoiding doing? Some conversation, some action, some long-avoided task that has been sitting there in the Undone section of your brain?
Why not give it a break? Scary, yes, I know. Do it anyway. Because if you’re going to love, you might as well do it right, and that means doing what is necessary, even when it’s scary and difficult.
Good luck. Happy Easter.