Tag Archives: family

First “Conflict” Once Removed

A favorite game at extended family reunions used to be point out a tribe member and then see who could properly to identify the relationship. My first cousin Charlie was an expert. He would remind me that my kids were his first cousins once removed as well as our aunt due to a great aunt adopting one of our mother’s sisters. I usually was quickly lost when we would play where Charlie could maintain clarity and rattle off the titles of everyone in the room.

Relationship chart

Relationship chart

Charlie’s gift has kept on giving this week as I have been muddling over how to decipher and describe conflict relationships. Using my cousin’s logic, you’ve got your first degree disputes: you and another are fighting over something. If it is a business relationship, you and that person might be the named parties on the mediation documents. At home, the two kids screaming in your hallway at each other would be the clear participants in the battle. In these cases, we know the disputants or the “sides.”

Meanwhile, what about the sister/wife/business partner/friend of one of the folks you would name above? How would you name her? And, more importantly what is her role?

In honor of Charlie, I want to give that sister/wife/business partner a title — 1st Disputant Once Removed or 1DOR.  A 1DOR will be anyone who is one step back from a conflict, but connected due to their personal connection to a direct player.

Being a 1DOR is a muddy role.  If your wife is fighting with another, does that mean you are fighting with that person as well? What can you say? Where, if anywhere, are your opinions best spoken? In the case of the two kids screaming in the hallway, what is the best position for the third sibling who was in her room reading?

Sometimes we can stay out of the battle while it is fought and resolved. Our loved ones can fight with another while we listen and stay out of the fray. We might provide a few words of encouragement or support as tempers rise and recede. Conflict brings opportunity, but it is also messy, risky and can be dangerous, so laying low would be an advised strategy here.

Meanwhile, some disputes linger and battle lines are drawn. The third sibling can’t hide in her room forever. Your family feuds with a neighbor for years, do we wave at the neighbor when you pass him in the car?  Who is fighting in the US with the government of Afghanistan?

I met with a friend last week who shared she has been exhibiting symptoms of anxiety seemingly for no apparent reason. It was disconcerting her, but as we discussed the past months, it became clear that her role as a 1DOR for both sides of an ongoing dispute had been wearing her down. She can’t escape the enduring conflict, she has little power to resolve it and doesn’t want to take sides.  As I listened, I wondered when my 1DOR status has adversely affected me without my conscious awareness? Stepping back, I was struck by how often I have been a 1DOR as a sister, mother, wife, friend, employee, community member and citizen. This called me to consider more deeply how I can best play in that role.

In my next posts, I will cover how we might naturally react as a 1DOR given our default conflict styles and an ancient Hindu practice upon which we can draw for support.

Keeping it Real

I smiled listening to Michael Jordan honor his beloved sister and brothers as some of his valuable opponents when composing last week’s post. I get it; when I wrote The Way of Conflict, I began the introduction by telling the story of how I grew up fighting with my three sisters.

These are three of the dearest people in my life. They are also my walking truth serum. I know within days of exposure, I’ll be required to fess up to what’s working me internally. Over the years, I’ve come to trust their uncanny abilities to make me come clean and have a healthy respect for this power. I love to be with each of them, but know that seeing them always brings some level of reckoning.

For some, old friends might provide a similar experience. They’ve known you too long and you have too much in common to be able to pretend your insecurities or struggles don’t exist. We can tuck them away for most of the world, but there are those souls that keep us honest.

Reading about indigenous cultures I notice that community members are sometimes assigned this truth serum role as a specific job. In the Dagara tribe in Africa you are chosen by the year of your birth to be a community jester or a “nature person.” Nature people are expected to tease you or to give you grief if you are putting on airs. When a nature person shows up at your door, know that you are going to get a work out…it’s their job.

Some Native American traditions explain that this role provides “coyote energy,” seeing this animal as the trickster whose role it is to keep us real. In other traditions it is the ritual clown who makes fun of those trying to pretend that there are above all the messiness of life. Their universal role is to humble us.

Humility means to be “of the earth.” Not less than another, and definitely not higher, but instead that we are all essentially the same. Important souls around the world remind us that as much as we’d like to ignore it, we are human just like everyone else in our community. We all make mistakes, fear death and have physical urges that can control us. We are imperfect and yet valuable in our own right.

I notice that within my sisterhood, we seem to call out behavior that is outside of our best and brightest. My siblings give me grief about eating ice cream out of the container (I know it’s gross), but also none will put up with self-depreciating talk. It’s in that fact that I trust; they see my potential and can get quite peeved when I miss the mark.

Historically we are told this was the role of the court jester. I know how easy it is to delude myself into thinking that my actions make sense and thus appreciate the idea that wise royalty knew that you must have someone checking your work. Too much pride or bravado needs loving critics.

Last weekend I had the rare opportunity to spend time with all three sisters and mom in Yosemite. On Saturday, twice driving back to a cabin we were renting, we saw a cute young coyote cross the road. Rare to see a coyote in Montana in broad daylight, I was impressed to see him in California hanging near the road hours apart. It took until one sister said, “I love each of you, but being all together isn’t always easy,” for me to giggle at the irony. Adding the citings, she was right; there was lots of “coyote energy.” Yet, like after working with a great personal trainer or coach, this week I now have a better sense of who I am, where I stand and what I need to work on. From the nudging and prodding I hope to be better, brighter and more real…and curtail double dipping in the Haagen Daz container.