the original kStyle blog.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Wednesday Writing Assignment

Eric here, sitting in for our exhausted kStyle on the Wednesday beat. The other day I had to confront someone--I won't say whom, so as to protect the guilty--for her treatment of me of late. I didn't used to be very good at confronting people, at saying to someone, personally or professionally, "You have done me wrong." But I've gotten better at it.

Tell me about a time you had to confront someone, redress a grievance, call attention to an unfairness. Was it effective? Or, alternately, write about a time you wish you'd done so, but shied away. Have you played out the scene in your head ever since?


Blogger Emma Goldman said...

Wow--I had to do that just this weekend. My brother finally called me to tell me why/that he's not bringing my only nephews to my wedding. His reasons? They "can't handle it" (they're 5 and 8, and will not be the youngest kids there), he didn't want them to "ruin my day," because they normally go to bed at 7:30 and this will go later. In other words: his kids' bedtime is more important than my wedding. I told him how I felt, though without the sarcasm--it's clear that he's convinced himself that his reasoning is sound, even though everyone (including my mom) thinks he's full of shit, and sarcasm would not have gotten the only result I really want, which is my nephews' presence. There is one thing I wish I'd said and didn't, but I'll have the opportunity.

9:34 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

I'm going to do this in two parts, since I have an example of each, and one is easier to write about.

Six years ago I was staying in a hotel in New York City, attending a conference there for work. This was back in the days before I knew you didn't necessarily have to stay in a particular hotel just because the conference had chosen it for the participants, and it was, well, a bit skeezier than I would have liked. Didn't have much of a choice, though, as by the time I saw the place, the rest of the city was already booked.

When I checked in, the clerk asked me if I wanted to use the phone in my room, either for outgoing or incoming calls. I had my cell phone with me, but as someone might have needed to reach me the usual way, I said yes. He said there'd be a fifty-dollar deposit required for them to turn on the phone. I didn't say anything, and I paid him the fifty.

But here's where it turns the corner into something that really should have inspired confrontation on my part. On the third day of my stay, I went out as usual and didn't come back to the room until evening. What I saw when I returned to the room was this: in my absence, someone, the maid I suppose, had used my toilet. And had not flushed. Had used my toilet a LOT and had not flushed. I mean had REALLY used my toilet and had not flushed.

Any reasonable person, of course, would have been entirely justified in calling the front desk and demanding at the very least a different room, and probably something in the way of a refund. And to speak to a manager about privacy and hygiene and other related matters.

I did nothing. I flushed. I regret it still.

10:09 AM  
Blogger Ann said...

I'm not big on confrontation; I have difficulty not getting emotional. I'm also a little passive-agressive (isn't that what blogs are for?), though I'm getting better and I don't hold grudges.

Luckily, I haven't really had to deal with anything that required confrontation--except for this one situation that I won't describe in detail except to say that it isn't uncommon and I learned how to handle it in my women's self-defense class in college, only I didn't say anything and have regretted it ever since. And I wish really, really terrible things to happen to the person in question.

Then there was the time when a guy who had recently graduated from college (as had I) hit my car and had his mother call me. I wish I'd been more adamant in our conversations, but in the end I got what I wanted, although it took a little longer than if I'd just said, "I want to involve the insurance company, and I'm not going to change my mind."

11:37 AM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Confrontation is difficult for those who were taught to abstain from it at almost all costs. The SCI (Stoic Catholic Immigrant) Code, which I believe I've mentioned here before, goes something like:
1. Don't complain.
2. Be grateful for what you get.
3. Work hard.

Nos 2 & 3 are good advice, to be sure, but No 1 can be problematic.

And so at the ripe old age of 27 I'm still feeling out how and when to use confrontation. I used to grin and bear whatever. Then, for a brief time, I would bluntly attack anything with the slightest provocation. During my studies abroad, I learned about more than the architectural details of the Parthenon; I learned to use charm to get my way. (NOTE: this works much better on Europeans than on Americans. We lost our graces and, embarrassed, maligned graces.) Now, I'm learning to trust what goes unsaid as well as said, and to act accordingly.

Confrontation is an interesting thing. It can be equally difficult to say, "Would you like to go to dinner and a movie sometime?", as to say, "I don't think this situation is fair." Voicemail and email sometimes make it easier, but often make it worse. Once I left a voice message for my crush inviting him on a date. I didn't hear back for a day or so--he was out of town--and I spent 2 days in agony until I heard from him. Turns out he wasn't interested, anyway.

My school has been testing my confrontation instincts of late. The school director, prone to some passive-aggression, likes to enforce previously unstated rules out of the blue. She never told me that I couldn't miss clinic when I told her at the start of the semester when I would be absent. She said, "Well, that's not great. It says in the clinic handbook that students aren't really supposed to miss clinic, but we haven't been enforcing it." This game went on a few more times, the director never saying, "Hey, could you please find a substitute for clinic?", and me not being a mind-reader (despite being decent with Tarot cards).

Last Monday I found a Very Stern message on my answering machine, left by a school administrative assistant. The director had left her a note asking her to call me. She read from the note:

"Students canNOT miss a clinic session. They MUST
find a replacement or they have to be there. This is in the student handbook."

I reread the handbook. Its vague wording still indicated, to me, that students must indicate when they would be absent at the start of the semester (which I had) and must find a sub if they gave last-minute notice. I began to steam. I felt like I was being treated in a very disrespectful way.

Finally, on Friday, I emailed the director and explained what my understanding of the handbook had been. I tried to find a sub to no avail. What else can I do? I've booked the vacation cabin already.

We talked about it at school Saturday. She admitted the handbook wording was "garbled". We came to a sort-of-understanding, but then she let out that aforementioned nonsense about "students being at the beach." Clearly, I realized, she has no concept of what students sacrifice to be at the school.

Confrontation over, now I have to let it go.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Part 2.

Various circumstances over the last couple of years have led me to conclude that when we confront someone about something they've said or done that maligns us in some way, often what we are actually saying is, No, you have that wrong. "No," we say, "
"you must see. THIS is how the thing is. Not what you are claiming, but rather THIS."

We point to objective truth, and confronting someone, about anything, often is (must be) tantamount to calling him a liar.

Emma's brother says the kids can't handle it and she must say, "No, that's not the important thing; in reality it is this other thing that you are not recognizing." A fellow's mother calls Ann and she has to tell her, "No, THIS is the way it works. Not the way you're saying it does. This other way." And Karen's confrontation rested on, "But this is what the rulebook Actually Says. Not what you're claiming now, but what is written here, and what is meant by it."

Sometimes, though, there is no outside source to reference, and we must trust what we know is true, even absent evidence. Those have been my hardest confrontations, and the ones that until recently I avoided. Someone says--and this is a fictional example--"I never really loved you," and one's response must be, no, these things we have done and shared are irreconcilable with anything but love, and so what you're saying isn't true, though you might wish it were.

Those are the hard ones because nothing can be proven. I've avoided them in part out of a suspicion that my instincts were faulty, that I couldn't trust myself when I felt that someone else was being disingenuous with me, or with themselves. I've had a few of these in only the last year or so, and each has been a version of, "Your characterization of reality is false." It's produced some difficult conversations, but the effect has been rather liberating. To find truth in this way, to say it out loud, to require another person to acknowledge something. It should be done sparingly, of course, but when it's necessary, there's really nothing else to do.

1:11 PM  
Blogger kStyle said...

Well put, Eric. That sort of confrontation is what I was aiming at when I mentioned that "I'm learning to trust what goes unsaid as well as said, and to act accordingly."

The trouble is equally the acting and the trusting. And the acting being done in a gentle way. How do you know, really, whether you're jumping to conclusions or the other person is hiding truth? It's dangerous to guess wrong, so one must tread gently...

1:48 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Indeed. Which is why a confrontation also need not take the form of a challenge; it can also be a call for discussion. It doesn't require that you refuse to hear the person out, or to be open-minded about what they'll say. But sometimes asking for discussion is, by itself, a form of confronting someone.

3:16 PM  

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