I’m an atheist aspiring to be a physicist, my sister’s a blend of a hippy and an Orthodox rabbi, and my brother’s a dignified child psychologist. This leaves our father constantly stuck in the middle of our arguments. But we (eventually) manage to stop bickering- for a while. The real problem is that any time we argue, we get so carried away trying to feel correct that we completely ignore the issues.
And when no one mentions a legitimate concern, any real resolution is impossible. We think we know our desires, and we defend those misconceptions ardently. Had I thought of this before trying to end another one of our quarrels, I might not have tried to manipulate my siblings like warring factions.
Even if they were.
No sibling rivalry is complete without trying to rope in and bias a parent, so my brother complained about our sister to our dad. Like any apparently neutral party, Dad couldn’t remain disinterested for long. In his efforts to stay detached from the unfolding drama, he was forced to be against all sides, making himself as much the enemy as anyone.
When trying to settle a dispute, an additional opinion will rarely help. As each new viewpoint enters the fray, so does another agenda, which only adds to the underlying tensions. Recognizing that the debated issue may resolve most successfully without interference takes true tact. But since I only wanted to maintain the family peace, I thought my sister would listen to me anyway. After hearing a few of my well-placed lies and biased statements, she rolled her eyes, slumped her shoulders, and looked away, defeated.
By mentally condoning my means with visions of the end, I became so narrow-minded that I treated my goal like a brainteaser. I saw the problem, found its patterns, developed and successfully used a strategy, and failed miserably to accomplish anything. I started out trying to avoid conflict but ended up negotiating my way into a meaningless, fleeting ceasefire.
True diplomacy is more than just the art of letting someone else have your way. True diplomacy takes the foresight to know what needs to be accomplished and the ability to ignore all distractions along the way.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.