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Peace, Joy, Love, and Conflict

Meditation on Solstice Peace

You have family. You have conflict.

–Bobby Richman

 On December 21 many years ago, my thirteen-year-old son arrived in the kitchen as I was having my morning coffee. Rather than greeting me with, “Good morning, Dad” he went straight to the refrigerator, took out a carton of orange juice, grabbed a large glass from the cupboard and filled it to the brim.

“Wow. That’s a lot of orange juice,” I said. (I don’t know why. “Good morning, Peter,” would certainly have been a better opener.)

Standing in the middle of the kitchen floor in bare feet with the glass of orange juice in his hand and looking squarely at me Peter flew into a rage with: “You are always on my case! Why are you always on my case? Nothing I ever do is right!…” and went on in that vein for a minute or so.

During a moment of speechless surprise a smile slowly spread over my face, after which I said, “We belong to mutual confrontation society, don’t we?”

He laughed, I laughed, and then we laughed together. From that moment on I was blessed with a hassle-free relationship with my adolescent son. It was like magic.

Even if you live in a city where the lights never go out, and the solstice means nothing to you, your soul knows it’s dark. You are living through the darkest day of the year. Lighting a candle can remind you of the reality that even when things are darkest you can light a candle. Children’s songs like “This Little Light Of Mine” can remind us that we can be that light—that a smile is a candle to someone else’s soul, and words like “You matter,” can cut through all darkness.

At this time of year we see “Peace, Joy, Love” everywhere. That’s nice, but if one isn’t feeling that way (and many are not—this is actually depression time, you know) it can feel more like an accusation than a reminder of perpetual goodness.

The uniqueness of each human means that we differ with all others, and those differences are a natural cause of conflict. In fact, it is fair to say—it is in fact precisely the truth—that we are in conflict with all other humans all the time. That most of it doesn’t feel like conflict most of the time is because, 97% of humans are pretty good at interpersonal conflict 97% of the time. In case you hadn’t noticed, let me state the obvious: we are in conflict with our children all the time.

My son knows that it is his job to know stuff. Otherwise, how can he ever grow up to be a satisfactory human who can make his own decisions? On my side of the table, I am trying to treat him as if he knows what he is doing, but I also know that he doesn’t know what he is doing.

But that’s okay.

Prepare for conflict. It is his job to assert, to make decisions and to do; a parent’s job is to give him feedback on the effect of his decisions on the world around him (in addition to loving him unconditionally and letting him make his own decisions.)

Thinking back on that magic moment in the kitchen, I realize that the active ingredient in the hassle-free relationship I had with my teenage son was the notion that it was okay for us to conflict. There are usually two layers to interpersonal conflict: the conflict itself, and the recrimination layer. I had removed the recrimination layer. We now had permission to disagree, argue, and fight without either of us feeling bad that we were conflicting.

Today, the darkest day of the year and the longest night of the soul, we remind ourselves that however bad things get, they can get better—and probably will, soon. We can light a candle and encourage ourselves to let our little lights shine. We want peace for everyone—especially our family. Paradoxically, a necessary ingredient in the holiday punch of Peace, Joy and Love, is acknowledging that conflict inevitably comes to loved ones, each of whom is trying to let his own little light shine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12 Responses to “Peace, Joy, Love, and Conflict”

  1. Gary Gruber December 21, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    Beautiful, Rick. When we bring light (and laughter) to tension and conflict, the dark often goes away. Better to light a candle than curse the darkness, and whoever said it first doesn’t matter. It still works!
    Happy Holidays, celebrate each one, and especially this day of Winter solstice.

  2. Susan Raisch December 21, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    More people than will admit are struggling to make it a perfect holiday with perfect children in perfect moods. It’s imperfect and knowing that has brought me peace, especially since it’s a time when your children may be in conflict. It’s a gift to tell them that that’s ok, they don’t have to be perfect and life isn’t always perfect even at the holidays. None of us need to feel the pressure which sometimes helps bring on the joy.

    Thanks for writing another beautiful post.

  3. Marianne White Dunlap December 21, 2011 at 11:03 am #

    Lovely, Rick. It’s such a universal human condition. I wish you and your family joy and peace during this season of light and in the new year ahead.

  4. Jenifer Fox December 21, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    “97% of humans are pretty good at interpersonal conflict 97% of the time.” May I please purchase a ticket to your world? Rick, seriously, this is a great post. Conflict is the little rub that allows to grow.

  5. Rick December 22, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    Thank you, Jenifer. (The 97% is based on an exhausting study.)
    Have a great vacation from your conflicts.

  6. Rick December 22, 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    Thank you, Marianne for all your great work with children.

  7. Rick December 22, 2011 at 11:05 pm #

    Gary, thank you for your leadership with educators.

  8. Rick December 22, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

    Susan, I am grateful for our partnership. Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones.

  9. Carla Silver December 23, 2011 at 4:20 am #

    Rick, The Winter Solstice is always one of my favorite days because it means we are on the other end of the darkness and each day will bring a bit more light.

    I definitely needed to read this post today as I have been feeling lot of conflict in my life these days, especially with my three kids and it brought a little more light onto that conflict. I will use your words here this week and this year with my family and my work too. Thanks for doing what you do!

    Happy Solstice and Happy New Year, Rick!

    Carla

  10. Ginna December 23, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    Thanks for this lovely opportunity to pause and reflect. I loved this passage. A chance to reflect on the parent child relationship during this super-stressed time. What a gift! You are doing good work. Happy Holidays to you and Victoria and all of your families.
    Warm Greetings,
    Ginna & Denny

  11. Sally December 23, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    Even though the actual Solstice has passed and we now are moving into the season of greater light, the pressure for a “merry” and “happy” are still ahead. Each year that goes by leaves me closer to celebrating each and every day as a gift, a holiday, because there are fewer left. My children are grown and will be elsewhere this Christmas, but your post brings me back to those days of tension and confusion around the holiday. I love your wonderful perspective on the importance of acknowledging conflict. More parents should understand this from the beginning! Blessings, Rick!

  12. Rick December 23, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    Dear Carla, Ginna and Sally,
    Your comments mean more to me than I imagine you imagine. “What if I write about anything less than Peace, Joy and Love? Is it a bummer? Will I bring people down? Am I being too Ginchy?”
    I, too, like celebrating the winter solstice, because it is a reminder that when our world is darkest, the nights are getting shorter and the sun is already on its way back to us.
    Thank you, and blessings backatcha.

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