Like many Irish people, I’m not good at confrontation and avoid it if I can

Laura Kennedy: We should all be more comfortable with our own discomfort

The social and wellbeing cost of engaging in direct confrontation is so high, I avoid it if I can.

The social and wellbeing cost of engaging in direct confrontation is so high, I avoid it if I can.

 

Like many Irish people, I have a conflicted relationship with even minor confrontation.

I have only sent a meal back to a restaurant kitchen once in the whole course of my life. I attempted to ingest it out of politeness, but involuntarily dry heaved at the table. When you dry heave, the jig is up really.

You can’t pull a Bridie from down the road and answer ‘Grand, yeah grand’, when the waiter asks you how your disgusting fish water is. I was fawningly apologetic sending back something that was objectively inedible. This is unacceptable. 

The lesson here is that, like most people, I can do confrontation if I must, but not well. When someone I care about, in particular, is wronged, I can, like a cat, puff up to greater than my size, thrash my tail about, and say the thing that, scudding almost palpably along the ceiling of the room, everyone within is thinking but will not say.

It takes a lot to get  me to that point, though, and my body is always in a flutter afterwards, heart bashing against my ribs, sweat prickling my back, inner monologue drawling shrilly, like the absolute shite it is ‘MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE SAID THAT, EVERYONE IS LOOKING’,

The social and wellbeing cost of engaging in direct confrontation is so high, I avoid it if I can. Usually, people will blame the person who verbally points out the tension in the room or situation, rather than the person responsible for actually creating it. 

I don’t know who ‘they’ are, so I tend to distrust their findings, but ‘they’ say opposites attract.

The first time I went to meet Jules’ family, it was his birthday, and I should have known then. His mother had bought him a nice pair of trousers, and saying ‘Oh thanks, I really like them!’ he whipped off his current trousers in the middle of the living room, stood in his underpants in front of his family, and proceeded to put on the new ones.

No one batted an eyelid. I nearly fell out of my stand (I travel with a stand for just such occasions).

Hold fast

You could argue that my family was simply uptight and had a horror of nudity, and both would be true, but I should have known then. The man is unflappable. There is no aggression in him, but he has a sense of total comfort, even or especially when others are distinctly uncomfortable, and this lends itself to engaging in confrontation or frankness when needed.

If someone is behaving inappropriately and making others uncomfortable, he will say it, if someone tries to bully him, he doesn’t let them, if something is going unsaid, he will say it. I envy this profoundly. 

A couple of weeks ago, he bought a second-hand bike from Ebay. It arrived broken, in a torn box with a pedal missing, and I hoped the man selling the bike would fix it quickly, because I knew Jules would get what he had paid for, whether the man wanted to give it or not.

At one point in a flurry of mediation and correspondence, it looked like Jules had lost the fight, and his attitude was incredible.

He sat on the couch, thinking, then turned to me and said ‘This guy doesn’t know who he’s dealing with. He’ll fix this problem that he has caused, because I won’t stop until he does. He’ll tire of this before I will.’ A day later, Jules had a full refund and an apology from Ebay, and got to keep the bike.

 This is the thing with confrontation. If you just hold fast, stay impermeable to the literal and environmental messages of ‘just let it go’, and persist in whatever annoying or uncomfortable situation, major or minor, then you will get what you sought.

I always fret and falter, worry about how I am perceived, about how I might be inconveniencing people who don’t mind inconveniencing me, and ultimately, I blink first.

It should not be so hard to say ‘no’, when the environment you’re in pushes you to say ‘yes’, or to say ‘you haven’t fulfilled your commitment’ to someone you made an arrangement with. We should all be more comfortable with our own discomfort.

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