My odometer notched up another year in February. Now that I'm in my vintage years, I am calmer and don't feel the need to win every quarrel. What changed?
In my youth I was quite volatile. I once jumped out of a moving car because the argument I was having with my "friend" got me so angry I couldn't stand to be in the same vehicle. Talk about doing something really stupid! Not only was the car moving, albeit slowly, but I stepped out into morning rush hour traffic on Flower Street in downtown Los Angeles.
Throughout the years my short fuse continued to cause outrageous anger followed by appalling behavior. I had to be "right" whether my facts were correct or not.
Eventually a good friend called me on it.
"Why are you fighting about things that are not important?" she asked.
"I don't know," I said, finally facing my demon.
"Here's how you can handle escalating confrontations. When things get out of control, say to the person you are bickering with, and without sarcasm, 'Gee, you may be right.' "
I looked at her as if she were crazy. Who would take that sentence seriously? I frowned, responding with, "Are you sure? That sounds awfully flimsy. No one would believe I was sincere."
Smiling, she said, "Trust me." This was a woman I admired and had great respect for. What did I have to lose?
It would be wonderful to say my life was immediately transformed after learning this technique. The words didn't fly out of my mouth. But one day I found myself in an escalating conversation about what I'd worn to a birthday party a long time before. My friend was adamant that I was dressed all in black; I was positive I was wearing a black skirt and purple sweater. Why did I become so incensed? Who cared what I was wearing years ago! How many of these ridiculous arguments had I participated in?
Suddenly, in the middle of this silly argument I remembered what my friend had advised.
In a calm voice, after my friend screamed for the eighth time, "I know you were wearing that black long dress. I have a perfect memory!" I said, "Gee, sweetie, you may be right."
Her jaw dropped. We'd been friends for more than 20 years, had multitudes of squabbles, including times when things got so bitter we'd stop speaking to each other for months.
After a couple of minutes, she recovered, digesting what I'd said. In a quiet voice, she uttered: "Of course I'm right. I remember the party and how beautiful you looked in that black outfit." In my heart I knew she was absolutely wrong, but what difference did it make?
Plus, was it possible my memory had failed? No way!
Life improved after that encounter.
Be warned, though. There is one drawback to this behavior. If you argue often with the same person, he or she will eventually pick up on your performance. This leads to riotous dialogues because first they raise their eyebrows and then they start to laugh. All you can do is shrug and laugh along with them.
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