I often question our roles as persons in igniting, fuelling, or participating in conflict. Which is why I thought of my granddaughter who insisted one rainy day on wearing one sandal and one shoe.
At some point, most children go through this valuable stage of expression, where they make choices that don’t fit what we see as a social construct. We want to dress the children nicely, have them act a certain way, and have expectations of obedience. But they are not dolls — and dress-up ends once the child is capable of making decisions.
They wear clothes that do not match (and in fact, it is more cool to do so), dye their hair blue, and out they go. The drawer that was once filled with nicely matching pairs of socks is replaced by a ‘sock pot’ or some other huge basket to hold single socks (that may or may not be matched, depending on the desire of the child), and there is a fantastic artistry in seeing the children in unmatched fabrics and colours.
- More with Brenda Schoepp: Just what exactly does a ‘relationship’ with a vet involve?
My daughter was wise in simply putting the partners to the one sandal and the one shoe in her bag and allowing the child to discover the benefits or drawbacks of her choices and to be available to offer the comfort of a matching pair. This not only saved a lot of early-morning conflict, but allowed the child to make a choice with dignity intact.
It is this appreciation of the dignity of others that is so important in our relationships.
It is easy to default to conflict when we are stressed or simply do not understand. In this case, with the bus coming in the yard, the lunches still on the counter, and the time clicking away, it could have been explosive. As parents, we know how that goes: A two-year-old who decides to wear one sandal and one shoe is going to win.
Looking back at photos when I was younger, I can see how the choices I made in clothing would have caused concern for my mother. But we got through those days, and the skirt or shirt I wore or the fact that my hair was in my eyes did not change me internally. I was still the same person.
We must consider that often it may be our behaviour that invites conflict in. The simple act of a mismatch is not going to matter. Raising one’s voice to the child would have only left us feeling exhausted and despairing. If my granddaughter had been lighting matches it would be different, but she was simply expressing herself and had no purposeful intention of inviting conflict.
Allowing her to amble out the door (a little lopsided and with one wet foot) left her dignity intact and created a safe space for her to explore her fashion sense.
It was not, as we often say, the end of the world.
How her wise mother chose to view this incident left us all with a great story and no harm was done. She did not view her daughter as less or different because of her choice, just as we should be aware of this with ourselves and others.
Recently, I looked in the mirror before heading out and saw a spot on my shirt. Cloth in hand, I rubbed and rubbed that spot. I could not get it out so I changed my shirt only to find a spot on it, too. It was not that I had an imperfect spot. The mirror was dirty.
Putting this into a life lesson I asked myself: How often do we do this? How many times have we seen ourselves as imperfect, dirty, or less because the lens we look through is broken, cracked, or smudged? What drives us to that point of perfection in ourselves and that expectation of those around us? How can we transfer that dignity to others if we don’t respect ourselves?
The continuous nature of conflict is a reality and when I studied this situation, I considered the history we create, the stories our actions tell, and our cultural patterns. In a continuous loop, that will likely be recreated by the next generation. So what do we want our story to be? One of control and conflict? Or of understanding and empathy or simply of ‘being with’ the other person as they travel their journey?
There is not a lot of room for more conflict in life, that space is often full of the big and little situations that come up as part of living. So inviting more in really puts the squeeze on.
More importantly, dignity as the guest of choice is knocking at the door and if the room is too loud with our inner and outer condemning voices, we miss the call.
We have choices in conflict and we have tools to allow those we live, work, or play with to journey in dignity, even if they are wearing one sandal and one shoe.