Friday, April 18, 2008

Confrontation & Culture

The story of my relationship with confrontation: I pretty much never confront. I have a some stereotype-based excuses for this:

1) I'm a girl. Girls like to negotiate instead of fighting. (Obviously, this depends on the particular girl.) Girls value the capacity to notice what someone else wants. The value placed on complying with that desire varies among people/subcultures, naturally, but I think the ability itself is valued almost universally among females.

2) I'm Asian (sort of--mainly by where I grew up). Japanese people particularly avoid open conflict. Maintaining harmony is far more important than getting your way on something. Instead of making demands on other people, you make sure not to inconvenience or discomfort those other people. Since they, in turn, are doing their best not to get in your way, the system works out all right, generally--in Japan. When you transplant an individual who is following this pattern out of the context of a communal effort to keep everything running smoothly and into a culture where the individual is expected to stand up for his/her own rights and desires--where stating desires clearly is considered less of an imposition than expecting the other to pick up on them--then the system breaks down. If that displaced individual cannot adjust, he/she ends up getting walked all over.

3) I'm my father's daughter. My father and I would rather suffer through a little inconvenience than exert the energy to try to effect a change in someone else's behavior. In particular, avoiding confrontation is avoiding the risk of invoking someone else's wrath.

Prime example from my day-to-day life:
My roommate, whose initials are also JP, was eating Lucky Charms while I was out, and I returned to the room to find a number of them smashed into the carpet. Grr! I hate it when there is junk in the carpet and I can feel it on my bare feet. It's even worse when it's visible as well as tangible.
This reaction, apparently, showed on my face, because the friend I was with when I made this discovery said, "Ohh, your roommate's going to get in trouble! You're gonna make her clean it all up."
"No, I'm going to sweep it up and forget about it," I said.
"What! You're going to let her get away with that? Noooo, what you're gonna do is, get a can of bug spray and put a thick line of it down the middle of the room. Then go get a few ant-friends and deposit them on her side of the line..." (Can you say "passive aggressive?")
Obviously, I did not take that silly suggestion. My friend wasn't serious about that one. But he was genuinely shocked that I wasn't going to yell at my roommate for the Lucky Charms. To me, it just wasn't worth the conflict, when I could quickly deal with the problem myself. To him, it was vital to assert his desires and defend his rights.

I'm pretty sure this the sort of situation to which the title of the book Different Games, Different Rules applies.

Epilogue: I mentioned the Lucky Charms in the carpet to my roommate, and she, being a girl just as much as I am, apologized and backtracked and said it wouldn't happen again, without my even saying it had annoyed me. Sometimes subtlety works fine.

No comments: