Most of us don’t seek out conflict. Although there are a few who seem to revel in it’s flurry and rush, the majority desire only peace. But being fallibly human and wielding our free will; conflict is undoubtedly inevitable. We hurt each other’s feelings. We make each other angry. And we certainly don’t always agree. The occasional strife is unavoidable; we have no choice in that matter. What we do get to choose, is the manner in which we engage and resolve our personal conflicts.
The response can be overwhelming when we sense the fight coming. Pulse racing, blood coursing, emotions rising and adrenaline flowing. Logic can suddenly be elusive. And in those moments we instinctively reach into our virtual toolboxes using whatever techniques we’ve lived and learned to defend ourselves in battle. In my family, a common tool for dealing with conflict has been the ‘shun’. I’ve watched both my parents do it and I’ve seen it done to them. I’ve even used it myself (and fairly prolifically, too) as a young adult.
When I think of the word shun, I always partner it with the Amish. The people who cut off close loved ones for not embracing their faith. But I’m not sure why I tend to assign the term to them. For as I look around I see it being used by many outside of that culture. The Amish may have popularized the term, but it’s a technique that has been widespread for ages. Sometimes I sit and wonder how far back it’s use goes in my own family. Who did it first? How high up my family tree does it go? What great great great grandparent found their power through dissociation?
And it does seem to be such a powerful thing, doesn’t it? Taking your knife edged sword and severing the threads of a relationship. To me it brings images of someone standing on one side of a rope bridge cutting the bonds one by one whilst someone else is forced to retreat; running to the safety of land. The swordsman turning his back on the chasm between them, appearing not to care as the other person aches to connect. As if they weren’t lucky for having someone want to connect with them at all. No. That’s not considered. It’s the power that is craved and displayed.
And yet I realize there are times when shunning is necessary. Some people are too unhealthy or abusive to those around them. Victims may find the shun to be an effective and completely understandable means of protection. But that’s not what I’m writing about here. I’m referring to it’s use as a means of conflict resolution. And yet, what conflict does it really resolve? It’s efforts are fruitless, with no real benefits to gain. That is the lesson I learned from it’s practice. I came out empty handed. I gained no sense of control. All I ended up with was long road of rope weaving needing to be redone.
I realize now that the one who shuns has no power at all. They give it away with the act that they choose. When you look up the word ‘shun’ in the Mirriam Webster Dictionary, it’s synonym is listed as ‘escape’. To run away. All the physiological responses I described; an increased pulse and adrenalin rush are indicative of our natural instinct of fight or flight. And the shunner chooses flight. Like an ostrich choosing to bury their head instead of courageously facing the uncertain outcome of the row. It’s cowardly, not powerful. Strength characterizing only the one left behind. The one brave enough to stand firm, show pain and face that chasm.
I try to be the strong one now. When I’m scared and reaching to my toolbox I still see the shun there, but I try to select something with more fortitude. I’ve lived and I’ve learned and I know avoidance is weak. Now I choose fight. Standing at the chasm; my feet firmly planted and my sword firmly sheathed. Knowing I care too much for my bridge to damage any of it’s threads.
This doesn’t mean I never find myself in the midst of a dispute or that I always come out on top. But I’ve also learned that victory isn’t only defined by convincing someone to walk that rope bridge and come over to my ledge. Sometimes it’s walking onto the bridge together and admiring the depth and breadth of the crevasse between us. Together respecting, together understanding and together maintaining our bonds.