Monday, May 30, 2011

5/30/11—Calculating the Cost of Winning

Today's Draw: The Five of Swords from the Legacy of the Divine Tarot. How much does winning mean to you? When has winning cost you more than you gained? And where do you draw the line at what you'll put up with in a debate?

The Five of Swords is one of those tricky cards in the tarot because different people interpret it differently. You'll hear "victory through surrender" and "victory at all costs", along with a host of other interpretations. So this is one of those cards where I rely on context, imagery and/or my personal interpretation of it to guide the way I use it in a reading. And my personal interpretation usually involves an argument or a battle of ideas, rather than a physical battle or turf battle. 

But taking a good look at this card today, what I saw was a man standing with destruction all around him. He has captured the enemy's swords and shields. He is the only one left standing. And yet his face reads as though he's just coming to the understanding that his victory has come at a great personal cost. And so it goes sometimes when we clash with others over beliefs and opinions. The things we say, the ways in which we conduct ourselves and the price we were willing to pay to win often means that nobody wins. 

There is a thing Dr. Phil says, "would you rather be happy or would you rather be right?" Too often in relationships, people go for "right", rather than keeping the peace. I can think of countless times I've gone for "right" and have lost or damaged relationships because of it. I can also think of many times someone else has gone for "right" and, because of the weapons they drew, lost me from their life. And, fortunately, I can also think of countless times I've just let the battle go and let them feel they were right....or admitted I was wrong and given them that victory. 

Two battle tactics that will always be guaranteed to take me out of the competition, and quite possibly lose me from your life, are name calling and trying to put a guilt trip on me. Name calling is verbal abuse and crosses a line in my book. I've been called names all my life because of my size and my spiritual beliefs and made a decision a while back to rid my life of that element as best I could. I rarely give name callers a second chance in my life, even if I'm not the object of their name calling. If they'll do it with you, they'll do it to you. And the second thing that turns me off is guilt trippers. They elicit the opposite response from me, in fact, and absolve me of feeling any guilt over anything I've done...haha. Just letting everyone out there know. If you want a quick way to get rid of me or put distance between us, try one of those two tactics. It will change the way I see you and you will some, if not all, of my respect. 

Although I rarely see it in discourse, I once had a friend who used manipulation or control in an argument we had. He warned me I wasn't allowed to respond. That he was right and I wasn't allowed to say anything about it. He demanded an apology for something I didn't even know I wasn't "supposed to do". He suggested that I didn't have a side and his was the only truth. Based on this and his behavior in other interactions—all the rules of engagement he had that I apparently kept knocking up against unwittingly—the price he placed on winning that last argument made it the last argument. On my part, I had an opportunity to keep the peace, issue an apology and go on with my life. But putting up with that kind of controlling behavior became too high a price to pay for that friendship.

And I'm not blind to the fact that walking away from a relationship is a price I put on "winning". In my mind it's not about winning, however. Perhaps that's a convenient way of seeing it. But there are certain behaviors that aren't welcome in my life. They're behaviors that disrespect a friendship...things like dishonesty and disloyalty. Walking away from friendships is not something that's done lightly or over one incident. It's a pattern of behavior that is often raised to fever pitch in an argument or debate. The way people behave in situations like that reveal a lot about what is at their core, imo.

Whether as part of an argument or not, we put forth behaviors every day that either nurture or poison relationships. Sometimes we're not aware of what we're doing and there are plenty of well-intentioned ways to help a friend open their eyes to their actions. There's no need for name calling, guilt manipulation or ultimatums. Those things don't nurture friendships. Everyone has a line somewhere that people can't cross safely. And on the way to that line are other lines, each of which loses you a little respect when you cross it. In our friendships, work relationships and love relationships, we have an instinct as to where those lines are. Part of relationship and learning about each other is feeling out the boundaries and knowing where they stand. I feel like I'm a pretty respectful arguer and fighter. I don't call names or use peoples' vulnerabilities against them. I don't tend to play games. I will reiterate my point until I feel heard, however, which people may find annoying. But that's the crux of what most clashes of ideas come down to...everyone just wants to be heard and know their opinion matters. It's about respect.

The way I see it, people occupy various levels of development in different areas of their lives. Someone who is less developed in, say, the area of impulse control, may be further developed in the area of partnership, for example. We all have individual paths to walk and different lessons to learn in this lifetime. And those different paths can make us compatible or incompatible, ready for each other or not ready for each other.

There's nothing wrong with winning. But we all have to understand that most battles of ideas just cannot be won. As long as opinion or belief are involved, there is no winning stance. And almost all arguments are over opinions and beliefs, from religion and politics, to what season is the best season of the year. There isn't one among us who can't stop at some point in an argument and check in with ourselves and ask two questions, "can this battle be won?" and "is this battle worth the cost of winning?" Because it's those battles that can't be won that often degrade into name calling and histrionics. The way we approach debates and disagreements speaks volumes as to how much we respect ourselves and we respect others. The "swords" we claim along the way and the armor we disassemble to fuel our egos can often leave us, like the warrior in the picture, standing alone.

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