The sergeant walked into the report writing room and dropped three pieces of paper over my desk. They fluttered down and came to rest on top of my hands.
“You used the wrong vandalism section in your report,” the sergeant said in a snide voice, adding, “I photocopied and highlighted the correct section.” Before I could say anything, he spun around and walked back to his office.
A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron. -Horace Mann
I was a young, rookie cop barely out of field training. The sergeant was a no-nonsense guy, with lots of experience.
I’d watched the sergeant in the field, and admired his command presence and leadership abilities. I respected him, which is why I felt angry and conflicted with how he treated me in the report writing room.
“Why didn’t he just tell me that I used the wrong vandalism section?” I thought to myself. “Why toss the papers on my desk? Why the theatrics?”
My father always told me to deal with conflicts directly. Don’t stab people in the back or run around gossiping. Have the courage and decency to confront people directly.
Before I knew it, I was knocking on the sergeant’s office door. “Come in,” he said.
Always on the defensive
I opened the door and stepped into the sergeant’s office.
“You got a minute, Sarge?”
“What’s up, Weiss?”
I told him that I expected to make mistakes and be corrected, but I didn’t expect to be talked down to.
“It’s not what you said, Sir, but the way you said it. It felt condescending.”
I think confrontation is healthy, because it clears the air very quickly. -Bill Parcells
I worried that he’d think I was thin-skinned but felt I had to speak up anyway. Otherwise, the whole thing would just eat away at me.
“Have a seat, Weiss,” he said. He sat back and sighed.
“I sometimes steamroll through my day and run people over. You’re right, I handled that poorly. I just want you to do well.”
“I appreciate that, Sarge. I’m sure you get tired of dealing with rookie mistakes,” I said.
“No, I get tired of mistakes made by senior officers, because we failed to train them better when they were rookies.” With that, he smiled.
It wasn’t the last time I made a mistake, but the sergeant never again corrected me condescendingly. We went on to become good friends, and often socialized together after work.
I could have let the matter go. It would have been easier. But there would have been tension left over, that could have affected our working relationship.
Better to deal with the issue than run from it. Who wants to live like they’re always on the defensive?
Avoiding a necessary confrontation
During my career, I knew two guys who were both unhappily married.
One guy pretended to be happy with his wife but wasn’t. He didn’t like confrontation, so he kept quiet about their issues.
He went on like this for years but was kind of dead inside. Eventually, he had an affair and everything blew up. It was a mess.
It hurt his reputation. Eventually, he remarried, and the new relationship was far more compatible. He learned that you can’t bury your emotions and fail to confront problems.
I have several times made a poor choice by avoiding a necessary confrontation.- John Cleese
The second unhappily married guy did something different. He honestly and respectfully brought up issues with his wife. He arranged professional counseling.
In the end, he and his wife could not resolve their issues. He sought a divorce. No affairs. No late-night drinking with his buddies. No badmouthing his wife.
He knew he was unhappy, refused to pretend otherwise, and owned his feelings. He chose honest conflict over dishonest harmony.
He’s in a new, happier relationship now. But what if he had stayed in the first relationship? What if he avoided the conflict? How many years of misery could he have tolerated?
Locked in that mind jail
Conflict is no fun. People go out of their way to avoid it. In some respects, it’s admirable. We don’t like arguing and rocking the boat. But conflict is inevitable in both relationships and teams of people. Moreover, it’s often desirable if we are to resolve issues and problems.
Honest conflict has more social value than dishonest harmony. -Joe Rogan
“We all lie like hell,” says Dr. Brad Blanton, author of the book Radical Honesty-How to Transform Your Life by Telling the Truth. Dr. Blanton adds that lying “wears us out, it is the major source of all human stress. It kills us.”
According to Dr. Blanton, stress comes not from our environment but rather from the “mind jail” we construct for ourselves.
Not telling your friends, lovers, spouses, or bosses about what you do, feel, or think keeps you locked in that mind jail. -Dr. Brad Blanton
But what about white lies, designed to spare someone hurt feelings or to minimize fear? Do you really want to tell your four-year-old child that there’s no Santa Claus?
They’re called “white lies” for a reason, meaning that they come from a benevolent place. The problem is when we fail to understand the difference between white lies and lies designed to avoid necessary conflict.
The worst lies are the ones we keep telling ourselves. Things like, “If I just ignore the problem, it will go away.” The reality is that most problems don’t just go away. You have to confront them.
A dishonest harmony will eat away at you.
But my body knew
I remember a friend of mine who was miserable in his marriage, but he didn’t want to hurt his wife. He feared all the financial fallout and stress of a divorce. He was in a lot of anguish.
Then one day over coffee he said to me, “I think I’ve made up my mind. When the pain of staying in the relationship is worse than the pain of getting out of it, you know what you have to do.”
He and his wife were able to have an amicable divorce. But even if it had been messy, he figured out that honest conflict has more value than dishonest harmony. Better to confront his problems than live behind a facade of happiness.
I was a high-functioning depressive, seemingly pulled together and buttoned-down. But inside deep, I was numb and mute. Now on the other side of divorce, I know that was me fragmented and doing my best to cope. But my body knew. — Liza Caldwell
Our bodies seldom lie to us. When we’re living with a lie, the stress takes its toll. By finding the courage to confront our unhappiness and deal with it, we begin the process of healing.
Grabbed the bull by the horns
As a young, rookie cop, I was scared to confront my sergeant. But I’m glad I did. It showed my sergeant that I could speak up for myself, in a respectful way, and it led to a life long friendship.
One guy I knew was too afraid to confront his wife about their relationship issues, and he made things worse by having an affair. The other guy I knew grabbed the bull by the horns, confronted his relationship problems, and honorably ended his marriage. He’s in a better relationship now and is much happier.
Dr. Brad Blanton warns us that when we continually lie, we incarcerate ourselves in our own “mind jails.” That’s a place no one wants to be.
Don’t settle for dishonest harmony in your life, because you’re too afraid to have honest conflict. Seek the support of friends or professionals if you need help.
Then, when you’re ready, summon the courage to face honest conflict. Confront the problems and issues that are making you unhappy. Don’t be nasty or mean-spirited about it. Just be honest, open, and firm.
You have a right to live a healthy, harmonious life, and it’s never too late to make it happen. I hope you do.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons and write about life. To get the latest writing and artwork, sign up for my free Saturday Newsletter here.
This post was previously published on Medium.
You Might Also Like These From The Good Men Project
|Compliments Men Want to Hear More Often||Relationships Aren’t Easy, But They’re Worth It||The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex||..A Man’s Kiss Tells You Everything|
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Illustration by John P. Weiss