Saturday, June 06, 2009

To Battle or Not to Battle is NOT the Question

The conventional wisdom about life--and about disability--is that everyone should "pick their battles" in order to save energy.

On the surface this seems like reasonable advice, but some people interpret this statement to mean that the two choices available are DISENGAGE or WAGE WAR.

It's just not that simple--or that drastic. And since whole groups of people (including yourself!) will have to live with the consequences of your approach to advocacy, some things need to be considered.

To start with, the phrase should be "Pick your strategies," not "Pick your battles."

There is no escape hatch. Alice in Wonderland could escape down a rabbit-hole to an alternate universe, but that option is only available to Alice and bunnies--the rest of us need to live here. (Which is really ok, have you READ Alice in Wonderland?? Wonderland is a VERY strange, unsettling kind of place!)

This being the case, we need to make our home here--in our schools, and neighborhoods and communities.

We are home-making. Not escaping. Not battling.

In this light there are several things to consider when approaching situations.

To begin with, conflict is normal. People are different and have different viewpoints. Conflict is not scary or negative, it's a sign that you're alive.

And alive is good.

The trick is not to avoid conflict, but to manage it.

So, where do we start?

Step 1: Evaluate: Does the issue matter? Don't waste your energy managing issues that don't matter.

An issue doesn't matter if it has limited or superficial impact, or if it will go away on it's own in a reasonable amount of time. I put matters of taste and style in this category most of the time...

Kids' hairstyles don't matter. Kids'clothing styles don't matter (though modesty and cost and a few other things do!)

I think it was my dad who told me that adolescence and snow both go away on their own if you leave them alone long enough... I don't always remember this, but I try.

My kids (and husband!) eat their eggs with ketchup. I think this is disgusting. Yet, it does not matter. I will tease my kids and they will tease me about this for fun, but not one volt of my energy will be devoted to changing their egg-habits. (Though if they WANTED to change, I would be supportive! :)

If it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter. Relax, enjoy, go swimming!

Step 2: If an issue does matter, it is WORTH addressing.

Any un-managed or unresolved conflict causes more and more and MORE conflicts to deal with (my friend believes there is a mathematical formula for this. I'm sure it involves exponents... if someone finds one let me know!) For example, if you don't address the aide that treats your child dismissively, pretty soon lots of people have learned that behavior from them... YUCK.

Beyond this, even though it can look scary, managing conflict is a valuable process. Working through differences with people builds your relationship with them, earns respect, builds your own skills, and it makes the situation you are living in BETTER.

Talk about win-win-win-win-WIN!

Step 3: Conflicts are resolved (almost always) by negotiating, not battling--and as Ruth at Wheelie Catholic points out, not by arguing (who says there's no such thing as a psychic friend?!)

You negotiate, discuss, use laughter, ask questions (read my posts on Unexpectedly Effective Advocacy Skills here.) You hold Crucial Conversations and you Get Past No...

Managing conflicts that matter through negotiation is like caring for that swimming pool. It can be hard work, there is a definite process to it, it can get a bit dirty, AND it builds a healthy environment for you to enjoy.

If a pool owner quits tending the pool mid-season, or blows up the whole mess in a fit of rage, things get awful pretty fast and no one gets to swim.

Step 4: Finally, some issues matter a lot and cannot be resolved through negotiating alone. Sometimes it is necessary to move from Crucial Conversations to Crucial Confrontation.

These problems pop up relatively rarely, and when they do you MUST respond accordingly. It becomes time to 'pick your battle.'

When you must battle, strategize--a temper tantrum is not a battle plan. Neither is wishing or whining.

Get help, commit to the process, arm yourself with information, allies, and tools.

And. Win.

So you can get back to poolside!

Picture from here.


Anonymous said...

Wise words - thank you!

Live everybody else, I sometimes forget that there are options other than frontal assault and abject surrender. I wonder how guerrilla warfare fits into that metaphor though? :)

Terri said...

Thanks Ricky! Balance is the hardest thing to maintain!! Yeah, guerilla warfare has its place... LOL