Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Being helpful with conflict.

Published: 30 Aug 2011

My entire life, more than anything, I’ve felt compelled to be helpful. I really, really want to help. I just want to take people’s problems away.

I want to be their superhero. But only when it’s something I agree with.

I’m quite selfish, perhaps the most selfish superhero ever.

Why do I want to be helpful?

I ask myself this often. The altruistic reason is simple. I wish to make the world a more efficient place. I don’t think better works; it’s far too subjective. I love efficiency. I love being able to accomplish more today than I could yesterday. I want to share that feeling.

Then my reasons stop. I don’t know if I have a reason. I don’t even really believe that I want to share the feeling of efficiency. I think to some degree the world will simply be less annoying to me if it’s more efficient. I’m probably wrong.

Helpful itself is subjective.

Thinking about myself being wrong makes me wonder what else I’m wrong about. Maybe I’m wrong about being helpful. What if what I deem helpful is not a common view?

I’m going to tell a story now. It was a few years ago when I still lived in Portland. I hate Portland and hated it then. I think my time enjoying Portland definitely lasted less than 2 years. These types of occurrences contributed to why I hate Portland.

My wife, son (age 2) and I were walking into Ikea. Ikea is a good store. They have a Family Parking area. We didn’t park there. Able-bodied parents with one child shouldn’t.

What also shouldn’t park there is a motorcycle. Which there was one, parked right in the very well signed Family Parking lot.

As we were walking in I commented about how rude the person was. As luck would have it, the man on the motorcycle was coming out. My son loves motorcycles and pointed and the man said something. I told him not to talk to my son. I don’t want people like him talking to my son. I still feel strongly about this and I’m not afraid of confrontation.

He incredulously asks why. I explain anybody who parks a motorcycle in a Family Parking zone is a terrible person, and I don’t want my son associating with terrible people.

The rest of the conversation didn’t go well. I refused to back down and he lamely tried to justify himself. Including, “I have a family.” My response was, “I don’t see your car seat.”

I personally don’t think I’m threatening, but that’s because I know me. To him I probably was. That’s life. In fact, I hope he felt threatened. I sincerely hope he felt I would cause him physical harm. I wouldn’t, but I hope he felt that was a real possibility.

I wanted him to feel this way so the next time he felt so inclined to be such a callous and rude citizen he would think twice. He would reconsider and he would not.

I acted in a vocal manner informing him of his loathsome status because of the many women who do have to take their children shopping. Who love the Ikea Family Parking and appreciate it.

I understand many people don’t find my methods helpful. I think we can all agree that the ends are correct. I stand by my actions because I didn’t do anything inappropriate. I didn’t hit him or make threats of violence.

People naturally eschew conflict.

I’ve never been able to grasp this notion that conflict itself is bad. I think it may be because many times in life I’ve been forced into conflict; physical and emotional.

Assigning value to conflict is irrelevant. Conflict is inevitable and controlling yourself in times of conflict is incredibly important. When a conflict is freed, the amount of energy released is substantial.

I view conflict as a consequence of inconsiderate actions. It is not an end and it isn’t even a mean.

Conflict is a state of being.

Conflict is nothing more than a state where the environmental friction prohibits progress. It is (or should be) temporary. It must be dealt with because it is not a stable state.

If you live life from a perspective where conflict is not something to be avoided, but simply a cresting wave which carries tremendous momentum, what amazing things can be accomplished?

My wife was, for many months, unhappy with me after that Ikea moment. It actually took her years to understand that I’m not looking for a fight but I don’t get bothered by conflict. She didn’t appreciate my stance until she took both our kids out.