Sunday, 22 March 2015

Letting go of a friendship again, and why this keeps happening

Yesterday, I turned my back on someone I've known for many years.  As I haven't seen them for a long time, and am unlikely to meet with them again, it was as simple as removing them from my social media accounts.  Unfortunately, this met with the assumption that I'm intimidated by strong women, because this person chose to identify herself as being a strong woman.

I learned, a long time ago, that there are times when the best reaction is no reaction.  It's simple enough to say, but difficult in practice.  If we take this most recent example, it is said that I am unable to hold my ground against a strong woman, implying that I am, therefore, a weak man.  What actually happened is that I was exercising a right that is rarely given much thought.

A disturbing trend I have noticed in modern times is the tendency to ignore, deliberately misunderstand or misrepresent a point that has been made, in order to "win" an argument.  In their eagerness to avoid being wrong, some will just pretend that anything which contradicts their views does not exist, no matter how reasonably it is presented.  As a result, there is an inability to understand, and empathise with, the views of others.

The right to free speech is often quoted.  Yes, in theory, you can be as outspoken, and even downright offensive as you choose to be.  In these days of political correctness, it is unlikely that any of us will not, at some point, say something which offends someone.  I will not take away anyone's right to express themselves as they see fit, but I would urge those exercising their right to free speech to consider the rights of others, and that is where most seem to go wrong.  You have the right to cause offence, but that goes hand in hand with the right of others to be offended and to respond in an appropriate manner.

There was a time when I had to deal with a large amount of abuse.  The stated purpose of my role was to support those in distress, by phone, face to face contact and email.  The anonymity, and confidential nature, of the service provided a means for individuals to talk about their problems and, unfortunately, for those who wished to verbally abuse and hurt someone to do so with the protection of anonymity.  For a time, I reasoned that something had led to these people needing to be abusive, and they were in need of help too, so I chose to be patient.  Sometimes, it paid off, and I discovered that, as I thought, the behaviour was fuelled by a deep despair.  There was always a cut off point, however, a point where I had to accept that a caller would just continue with the abuse, and the call must be ended.  Put simply, there was a point where I had to stop listening.

It makes sense for me to apply the same rules to friendship.  If we accept one of the principles of Zen, that it is better to avoid contention, and add in my own interpretation that sometimes the best reaction is not to react, then it stands to reason that there is a point where a friendship may come to an end.  One of the many unfortunate things about social media is that we can't just walk away.  When we reach the point where our attempts to resolve an issue, or issues, are continuously being ignored, when what we say is wilfully misunderstood, what do we do?  Do we reason that we have nothing productive to say?  Do we start thinking that maybe we don't deserve a listening ear?  Does it cross our minds that we might be fundamentally flawed in how we deal with others, and ultimately it is our fault that we are misunderstood?  Believe me, I've been through all of that.

If we seek to limit our suffering, to preserve our inner peace, there is a point where we must stop listening.  To my mind, continuing a conversation where one party is no longer listening is an exercise in futility.  It's upsetting that someone who knew me for a number of years chose to label me as weak, but it's a further sign that walking away was the correct thing to do.

Edit: I question the use of the term "strong woman".  There are women all over the world who face sexual abuse, violence and other abuses of their human rights on a daily basis, in countries where gender equality is but a distant hope.  They carry on, and some have the courage to fight against the way of things.  These are strong women.  Elsewhere, I look at the way the word "bitch" has been appropriated as a badge of honour, even though it essentially means the same thing it has always meant - a spiteful or unpleasant woman - and I have to say that maybe we took a wrong turn somewhere.  Since when has being unpleasant and spiteful been seen as a desirable trait?  Is "winning" at all costs, no matter who may be hurt, what it takes to be a strong woman?  I question the value of such a victory.  Sun Tzu states, in The Art of War, that it is better to achieve victory without bloodshed or, to translate it into more general terms, it is better to bring someone around to our point of view without causing lasting damage to our relationship with them.

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