Note: This is the conclusion of this series, you can catch up on the rest of it here.
Yesterday, I was on an airplane (as I am most Wednesdays) and was reading, for perhaps the hundredth time, one of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards books, Deep Wizardry. One particular scene, as it does every time, not only brought tears to my eyes but also really made me consider how I viewed the world. The passage, several pages long, contains a confrontation between Nita, one of the protagonists of the series, and her mentor, Carl. To quote Diane Duane in a short story set in the same universe: “Nita and Kit were wizards; how they got that way has been told elsewhere and isn’t really so much of a big deal seeing that one out of every twenty people you meet is probably a wizard of some persuasion anyway.”
In the story, Nita has just learned that the part she agreed to take in a song that would bind a destructive force threatening millions of people would result in her death, as she would reenact the willing sacrifice of the original participant. Nita, being only thirteen, was of course, struggling to come to terms with this decision. Into the story comes Carl, one of the two senior wizards who mentor and advise Nita and Kit. Nita is desperately hoping for a way out of the situation and looking for Carl to help her – to make the decision about breaking or keeping her oath to participate in the song for her. He calls her out on this and then says he’ll walk her through the options, helping her to confront the situation and the decision. It is obvious that both their hearts are heavy in the conversation.
When you have to confront someone you love, whether it’s a friend, lover, partner, or family member, it is never easy and there’s almost always hurt or heaviness in your heart. Confrontations arise out of conflict and conflict often means hurt feelings. The hard part about hurt feelings is that we can’t control them and they are selfish things. They cloud your better judgement and make you do stupid things – both of which won’t work if you want to successfully use confrontation to improve your personal relationships.
The most important rule of confrontation with loved ones is one said in many iterations by many people wiser than me: you cannot hold the past against people. A confrontation is not an excuse to air a laundry list of grievances you have. Honestly, if you’re holding onto a laundry list, you might need to consider going back to what we talked about before and examine yourself first. When you hold onto the things that people have done that have hurt you, you build resentment. Resentment is dangerous and insidious; confronting issues quickly is key to avoiding building up resentment for those you love. Confrontations, especially with people we care about, are most effective if they are focused on a single problem or issue.
In these confrontations, you need to be willing to accept your part of the blame, more so than in any other area in which you might need to use confrontation. You must also be willing to accept that the person you are confronting may not have even meant to hurt you. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but you need to consider that the other person may have violated your expectations of them that you never told them you had. You can’t expect people to be mind readers; open and honest communication is the basis of not only confrontation, but also good, strong interpersonal relationships.
“We need to talk” are words that are hard to say and even scarier to hear. When you focus on making open, honest communication a goal, you’ll find the need for set-aside confrontations lessens. As you incorporate these skills into your daily life, using the phrase “we need to talk” loses some of its power to strike fear into our hearts and instead returns to being a phrase needed only when necessary.
Hopefully, the outcome of a confrontation with someone you care about will be positive, but just like other confrontations, this won’t always be the case. Sometimes, the outcome will mean letting go. Not all friendships or relationships are meant to last forever. At other times, especially with family, the outcome means that you’ll have to just be content with the fact that you’ve said your piece and now you have to move on.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of forgiveness in confrontation with the people in your life that you love and care for. Anger and bitterness will eat at your own ability to be happy and content. You will never be successful at confrontations if you do not learn to forgive people for their faults and their offenses against you. There will be many times in your life that you must choose to be willing to let go and move on. You don’t have to choose to do it for other people, but you must choose to do it for yourself. To paraphrase Diane Duane, it’s dangerous to assume that just because the ugly parts of people are true, that the rest doesn’t count. Also, it’s important to forgive yourself. You can do just as much harm by withholding forgiveness for your own mistakes as you can for others.
Time and again in this series, we have talked about the importance of self-awareness and being honest to yourself about yourself. The single most difficult confrontation you will ever face is the confrontation you have with yourself. It is also the single most important. You must confront yourself. Like Nita in the story above, we make decisions that have consequences we can’t foresee and that we don’t want to have to deal with but we must.
The conversation between Nita and Carl in Deep Wizardry probably shaped my worldview more than anything else I’ve ever read. After Carl goes over Nita’s options and the consequences with her, he tells her one last thing before leaving her to make up her mind:
“Sweetheart,” Carl said, “if you’re in this world for comfort, you’ve come to the wrong place, whether you’re a wizard or just plain mortal. And if you’re doing what you’re doing because of the way other people will feel about it—you’re definitely in the wrong business. What you do has to be done because of how you’ll feel about you: the way you did it last night, with your folks.” His voice was rueful. “There are no other rewards ; if only because no matter what you do, no one will ever think the things about you that you want them to think. Not even the Powers.”
“What you do has to be done because of how you’ll feel about you.” Take a moment and let those words sink in.
Confrontation is an amazing tool, and one we can all improve at, but it’s still just a tool. Using it should be done because you think it can improve a situation or give a voice to yourself or to those who can’t speak up for themselves. In the end, when you choose to speak up, whether for yourself or others, you are the one who has to live with the consequences of that decision. I’m not a person who has many regrets, but I will leave you with this, of the few regrets I have, every single one has to do with choosing not to speak up.