BY MARYBETH GRONEK
I used to think fights were a necessary evil. Something one just had to grit their teeth and endure, like taxes and holiday traffic. Do what you can to avoid them whenever possible. Unfortunately, for the majority of my life, abiding by this motto meant altering my behavior, my emotions, and sometimes even situational reality to make ‘okay’ things that were clearly not.
While I love my parents and am proud of the way I was raised, like every family, we had our issues. One of them was conflict. Oftentimes, we operated under a sweep-everything-under-the-rug mentality. Which worked until, of course, I tripped over the rug on account of the unspoken issues buried underneath. Arguments occurred sporadically, but when they did, *everything* came out. Fights were emotional, blame-based, circuitous, and consequently, rarely resolved anything. This cemented my belief that fighting was to be avoided. Not only unpleasant, but actually pointless.
As I got older, I found it challenging to maintain relationships with this mindset, both platonic and romantic. Either I had long-term relationships where I wasn’t speaking my mind, and therefore, harboring resentment and dissatisfaction. Or I had short-term ones where I was speaking up but in a way that was destructive. Hence, short-term.
I have since had three epiphanies about conflict that have set me free:
I love boxing.
I started a few years ago as a way to try something I might like but also might be terrible at (I have weird objectives, I know). I do the speed bag, pad work, punching bags. You know, the whole drenched in sweat thing. It’s good fun. And I feel like a badass.
I train with Sam Colonna, a legend in the boxing world. He’s down to earth, a straight shooter paisan-type with a gym on the Southwest side of Chicago. He collects more heading-in-the wrong-direction neighborhood kids than trophies. And that’s saying a lot because his gym is full of trophies. He turns their lives around (the kids, not the trophies). He’s like a second father to me.
There’s something he says fairly often: Don’t fight someone else’s fight. Fight your own fight.
He’s right. In the ring when someone is coming after you, it’s really tempting to be reactive and fight back in a way that is playing into their hands. Suddenly, it’s their ring and you’re just living in it. Instead a good boxer will stay engaged, sidestep, and block calmly until their opponent is tired and they are back in control. A seasoned boxer knows what they want and then waits for their opening. Then they fight their fight.
Disagreements in real life are much like fighting in a boxing ring. We have to know what we really want and fight our fight, not other peoples’. During a disagreement virtually *everyone* is going to come at you with their ego, their insecurities, and their words aimed to harm. Cool. That’s their fight, and I refuse to play it. You should too, because there’s something better out there. When it comes to disagreements, here’s what our “fight” should be — growing together, not apart, through the disagreement. Restorative conflict. That has to be our end goal and the undercurrent behind every sentiment we speak. If we want to get good at conflict, we need to get off the I’m Right-You’re-Wrong ride and get on the Let’s-Discover-Each-Other ride. And we have to decide right now that when others come at us with the former, we don’t engage on their terms. We block the punch, humbly, and then lead with the latter.
6 Terms of Engagement for Restorative Conflict.
Conflicts are the point where someone ends and I begin. And vise versa. It’s a beautiful reminder of a person’s otherness from us. They are not me. They are different, and it’s beautiful. While fights may start as disagreements they are really opportunities in disguise. An opportunity to know the person better. To know ourselves better. An opportunity to grow together. To dive into the depths of who a person is, to come up for air, only to discover that there is more to know. More enigmas to unravel. You are limitless, which means there are limitless things to discover. And I am committed to finding them. Your infinite otherness doesn’t scare me. It compels me. I want to know you, and I want to be known. Because, dammit, that’s what relationships are all about.
There’s another quote Sam says fairly often.
Don’t telegraph. Don’t tell me what you’re going to do before you do it.
He says this when I move my elbow back prematurely before throwing an uppercut. He’s right. My telegraphing kills the mystery — and my advantage.
I realize in writing this article, I’m doing a similar thing. I’m lifting back the curtain and revealing my conflict playbook. But if my lessons learned can help others, in a way, I’ve won the round. We both get an advantage. This is me fighting my fight, Sam. I’m sure you’ll understand. 🥊
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