Thought of the Day. Family Conflict (Part III) Preventing Family Conflict
In Part I of Family Conflict, I presented the idea conflicts often involve looking at the present through our history. In Part II I wrote that “universal” or “enduring” truths are myths-especially when it comes to understanding family conflict. In this last part of the series, I’ll discuss ways of preventing or minimizing family conflict.
The Origins of Family Conflict
As you try to understand why your family member persists in “modifying the truth,” you may be adhering to the view there is an independent reality. Not true. Unique filters continually shape everyone’s experiences in accordance with their needs, fears, and beliefs.
That was the case with Clarence, a patient I served in hospice. He was in his eighties and lived most of his life in Alabama. He grudgingly moved to San Francisco to be with his daughter when he could no longer care for himself and still harbored negative feelings toward blacks, Jews, Catholics, and “them damn agitators in the 1960’s.”
As someone who was involved in the civil rights movement, whose parents were Jewish, and who was a lifelong “damn agitator,” I stood for everything he hated. I was assigned to care for someone who could have been one of the mounted policeman intent on making his horse stomp me as I cowered on the steps of the Alabama state capitol. Or the tobacco spitting jailer who ordered black prisoners to drag me and other white marchers from an integrated cell to a segregated one.
Although he was neither, in my mind he represented every intolerant, hateful person I ever met. But he was dying and looked to me for compassion. Although my convictions said, “Give it,” I couldn’t.
Understanding the “What If’s” of Life
There are times when, despite our best efforts, we can’t become the person we want to be. I aspired to be compassionate to Clarence, to connect with him as a human being. I wanted to serve him, but I thought I couldn’t. Then I realized when compassion can’t be tapped into, understanding could.
What would I become if I was born in Selma to segregationist parents whose great-great-grandparents owned slaves, and whose fundamentalist religion espoused the superiority of whites, Protestants, and the Confederate cause? How different would I be?
Preventing Family Conflict
It was a matter of happenstance that I was born in the North to parents who were Jewish and who, because of persecution in Europe and the United States, taught me the importance of tolerance. Clarence, on the other hand, was born in a place with a history of bigotry. It was the circumstances of our lives that made us different.
There may come a time during a family conflict when in your mind, your family member needs to be vehemently confronted for past or present wrongs. Instead of acting on your unfiltered emotions, try to understand themotivations for the unskillful things he did. Try to understand the circumstances of his past.
Understanding may not have the soothing effect of forgiveness, but it goes a long way in preventing a classic “Hatfield-McCoy” endless battle, and may be the only remedy for continuous anger.
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