Monday, May 2, 2022

Silent Agreement

Community (CAI 2021)

In relationship, chosen or imposed, we encounter difficulties and irritation with other people. Some personalities simply don't work well together, and for the most part, we choose to build relationships with people where that isn't the case. But we all have plenty of relationships, between work, neighbourhoods, and family, where our lives are entwined with people who have personalities that we find difficult, or who don't like us. 

When difficulties and irritation arise, there are two groups of responses - to address, or to ignore. 

If we choose to address, we risk conflict, so we often choose to ignore. 

If we ignore, we are responsible to LET IT GO. If we ignore and do not let it go, but instead add it to the Pile of Resentments, the pile will grow until it is too big to ignore. It is an important step of maturity to learn to Let It Go. For real. Truly. Not pretending to, not being the bigger person but secretly holding the resentment, not telling yourself you've let it go when really, you're still holding on. It involves self reflection. It involves employing empathy and compassion. It involves curiosity about the other person and caring about them. It's work. Work we do when we are in relationship with someone.

When we are stuck entwined with people we aren't well matched to, where it's hard to get along, we can assume a silent agreement between us, to use the years we will be entwined to better know each other so we can find more parts to respect and like; to use a thought-filter that gives the person affection and compassion; to actively look to build empathy for that person's experience; to give that person space to be themselves even when it's uncomfortable; to recognize where we're imposing expectations on that person and creating our own disappointment; and on, and on. Relationship happens over a long period of time. We will have many opportunities to practice these things, stumbling together with the trust that we are building relationship. Many chances of difficulty or irritation are bound to arise. We are bound to each other, so we must face them together. 

If our silent agreement is in place, the decision to address or ignore is made in that context. I may ignore a lot of things, and let them go as best I can, over time, and try to keep my resentment pile from growing. I may address important things, so that we can talk about what I'm feeling and what might help, risking offense, risking conflict, because the relationship is important enough to be worth working through conflict, with the silently agreed-to goal of mutual understanding and the silently-agreed rules.  I can actively try not to blame them, to look more fairly at my own part, be willing to deal with that. 

But what I can't do, what a relationship can't withstand, is Ignoring AND Holding On. Because that is a breach of the silent agreement. That is a failure to apply the rules of mutual understanding to the situation. It's a failure to keep the resentment pile from growing, and it will lead to Big C Conflict instead of the small conflict that could have prevented it, because the Conflict will contain all our resentment, everything we failed to Let Go because we failed to do our own work in the relationship by working on our own thinking. 

I think the silence of the agreement is the first part of the issue.