Letting Go of Conflict
Last week we were at a new playground, a cool one that has rock formations designed to look like caves. Theresa and I were sitting in the entrance to one when two boys maybe five or six years old came over the top and were peering down at her.
“Look up, Theresa,” I said, trying to be friendly, “there are pirates looking at you in your cave.”
“I’m not a pirate,” muttered one, and then the other. So much for trying to be friendly.
Then one of the boys started gently but deliberately scraping dirt and small pebbles off the rock above, where it sifted down and landed near Theresa. I stood up and glared with my patented teacher glare.
“Get out of here,” I told the boy. He stared at me with no emotion. I continued: “You don’t throw dirt and rocks on little babies.” I scooped up Theresa, who was totally unfazed, and headed with her to the play structure.
The boy’s mom was over at the rocks in an instant, telling them to get down right now. I felt a little better that the parent was watching what her kid was doing and taking action on his inappropriate behavior–most parents I have met do so, but I feel like I can’t expect them to. Some parents are oblivious, some are over-permissive, and some just don’t care.
This very minor incident ate at me for several hours. It reminds me that I hang on to conflict, especially unexpected conflict. I obsess over what I could have done differently, what the other person should have done or said.
In this case, my initial reaction was to treat the kid like he was one of my students: someone over whom I have authority. The kid’s level stare back at me when I told him to leave reminded me that I have zero authority over kids at a playground. This acknowledgement of impotence, especially in the face of defending my kid, drives my justice-craving and rule-abiding side crazy.
This also leads me to obsess about the future. Of course there will be more playground or school incidents where other kids are mean to my kid(s), intentionally or unintentionally.
Of course, that will make me want to shove those other kids off a cliff.
Of course, I can do no such thing. I have to help my kid(s) understand that there are mean people in the world, that often those people are mean because they are hurting inside, and that the best we can do is try to be kind anyway.
None of this obsession helps: it doesn’t help me, or my kids, or the other kids. It only serves to agitate my spirit, roiling my brain, making me restless and unfocused.
I need to learn to let go of this obsession over what was, what should have been, and what might still be.
In other news of power struggles and justice, thanks be to God and voters that gay marriage amendments passed or held in four states this week, including my own. May we all continue to practice compassion and promote equality for all.