How to End an Argument: Lessons in Compassion
It's funny how sometimes a simple statement or gesture can turn my mood around in an instant. Even though I know that feelings are always temporary, being patient enough to wait for strong emotions to pass, has never been my strong point. On Wednesday, I got into an argument with my husband and I wasn't fighting fair. I was throwing everything I had at him, except for the kitchen sink (figuratively speaking, of course ;). I complained not only about issues in the present but also past hurts that should have been gone, dead and buried a long time ago. The problem is, I don't think that I was really angry about any of the issues I was raising, I was just frustrated, and needed an outlet. Luckily, on that particular day, it didn't take long for me to realize that I was arguing by myself. My husband was just listening to what I was saying, but he wasn't really engaging in the discussion. So, I stopped arguing and walked away.
Following the argument I noticed that my husband was being very loving and kind. He was calling me "Honey," helping me out around the house and acting in a way that can only be described as gentle. He wasn't acting this way because I had "won" the argument,because trust me, I hadn't. He wasn't acting this way because he was trying to redeem himself. At the time, I really didn't know why he was giving me this obviously undeserved attention,considering that I had been so mean to him earlier. So, I asked him. His answer was simple. He looked at me and said, "I know sometimes I can be difficult. You're difficult too." He went on to say, "What would happen if we both kept arguing, rehashing old hurts and tearing eachother down?" " We would probably break up," I admitted. He gave a subtle nod and he walked away as if he had said something completely mundane, but at least for me, he had definitely left an impact. In his mind, arguing was not the answer to the issues that we were having and I realized that he was choosing to be kind because he knew that what I really needed in that particular moment, was to feel like I was being taken care of. Almost immediately my feelings of anger started to melt away. I thought this was such a great act of compassion.
Normally, my arguments don't unfold in this way. I am not sure if it is because my husband and I are getting older and wiser, but whatever had spurred on this change in our way or interacting with eachother, I only wish it could have happend to us much earlier in life. Until then, in my opinion, the sole purpose of an argument was to dig deep into the past, stir things up and come out on the other side of the disagreement a "winner"; but, if that was really the objective of an argument then why did it so often lead to hurt feelings, exhaustion and no real resolution? I was beginning to realize that the majority of the time, when I felt the need to argue, it had more to do with my own negative feelings that needed to be resolved, rather than getting another person to concede to my way of seeing things. So, now when I feel upset, I ask myself, do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy? At least for me, that changes the entire dynamic of any heated exchange that might be starting between myself and the other person. If being right isn't the goal in an argument and if happiness is, then my job is to figure out how to get happy? And I believe that compassion may be the answer.
Compassion is the ability to not only empathize with others but to anticipate what they may need and work to give it to them. Studies have shown that the benefits of compassion are two sided. Acts of compassion have a positive impact on the person who is giving the help, as well as, the person who is receiving the kindness. Acts of compassion can make us happy, even happier than when we buy things for ourselves. It boosts our health and longevity and just as it did in the experience that I described above, it actually helps to relieve stress. It wasn't until this recent exchange with my husband that I was reminded what a powerful tool compassion can be. I was reminded that you cannot stop hurt by causing more hurt to someone else, but interestingly enough, you can heal hurt with love. It sounds cheesy, but who cares, if it leads to greater happiness.
Learning to be compassionate is a valuable lesson for anyone, and I think it is especially important to teach to children. If we could help children to create a habit of resolving conflict in a loving way rather than an argumentative way, imagine how many negative interactions and hurt feelings could be spared. Learning to be compassionate helps us to gain the perspective of others and makes us better problem solvers. So rather than amplifying negativity within an argument until someone surrenders, we would be more likely to get to the root problem and come up with a peaceful solution. By teaching our children to be compassionate we would be giving them a tool to foster more positive relationships and to gain a greater sense well-being, and self acceptance. Who wouldn't want that?
I really believe that healthy habit start young and If we want to teach our children to have healthy relationships, I think that teaching them how to be compassionate should be a priority. If you are looking for a way to introduce the idea of compassion to your children, I have found a really great book that makes the benefits of kindness really easy for young children to understand. It's called, "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?" by Carol McCloud. The author describes how every person on the planet has an invisible bucket, that makes them feel good when it is full and sad when it is empty. In this story, children are taught that acts of kindness fill their buckets and others. Children are encouraged to be "bucket fillers" everyday in an effort to spread joy. I loved this book so much that it has become a part of my Holistic Kids program. As I continue to teach children the benefits of taking care of themselves, others, and the environment, compassion training just makes sense. To learn more about the program click here. As we teach our kids to practice acts of kindness on a daily basis, hopefully we as parents will also be reminded to be compassionate, so that in the heat of the moment, we can end the screaming matches and the battles to be right, and instead just give each other what we really need, which in most cases is just a little love and acceptance.