My friend’s fear of confrontation is beginning to turn him into a coward.
Yesterday, the two of us were walking back from the gym when somebody we mutually knew came up in the conversation.
I watched, awestruck, as he checked his phone frantically two dozen times over the course of our short five-minute walk because he was terrified that the malevolent forces of the universe could have somehow called the person being talked about and allowed him to listen in on our discussion.
After I saw him draw his phone from his pocket for what felt like the hundredth time, I turned to him and called him out…
“You’ve literally not stopped checking your phone since we left the gym…”
There was a short, awkward silence until he responded…
“Sorry man, I’m just a bit paranoid.”
Aren’t we all.
This is a complicated emotional world we live in and the humans in this world don’t always behave as they should.
So, naturally, we find ourselves talking about these complicated run-ins with humans we trust — whether that’s to just simply vent, move past the negative emotions we’re feeling or come up with productive ways to work through conflicts.
But, as humans, if we’re choosing to talk about someone behind their back, we must also be fully prepared to take ownership of the things we say — because if there is anything in this world worse than a shit-talker, it’s a cowardly shit-talker.
Like my friend, I’ve experienced the fear of getting caught red-handed in the midst of my shit-talking.
One rule I have to not only help silence this fear but also force myself to be a half-way decent human being is…
If I find myself talking poorly about someone behind their back on two separate occasions, I either have to confront the person with what I’m feeling or stop talking about them altogether.
This, however, is much easier said than done because owning what you say requires one to lean into confrontation… something both my friend, myself and the world as a whole struggles desperately with.
Why we fear confrontation.
Confrontation is wildly difficult because it goes against our hardwiring.
Most of us are terrified of confrontation with others because for much of human history we lived in tribes or communities where in order to be accepted and loved and cared for, confrontation had to be avoided at all costs — we had to fit in and not cause any sort of conflict or risk being booted from the tribe.
You pair this with us being educated in a school system where we were taught to be obedient and not challenge our superiors and it’s apparent that we have a real cluster-fuck on our hands — a debilitating fear of confrontation fueled by both genetic hardwiring and conditioning.
Not to mention, with technology making communication easier (and more anonymous) than it ever has been before, we can say anything we want about anyone we want without ever having to take ownership.
I imagine that if the most violent of tweeters had guns to their heads and had to read their tweets out loud on a loudspeaker in the middle of some bustling street, they’d probably want to throw up.
We’re no different from these violent cowardly tweeters — we’re lions behind people’s backs but mice when in the same room.
Perhaps, being a better human-being is about flip-flopping this narrative.
Changing the conversation through confrontation.
Avoiding confrontation is dangerous because it doesn’t just happen externally, it happens internally, too.
Those who fear to confront others also fear to confront themselves which makes it nearly impossible to grow in one’s relationships, career and life.
The individual terrified of having an open discussion with their friend about how they’re feeling probably is terrified of facing some of their own demons or being called out for their demons.
So, as a result, everyone wears masks and tip-toes around one another’s elephants, building relationships that “work” but are by no means fulfilling or even authentic.
Cathy the narcissist keeps talking about herself and John continues to be massively overweight while his diabetes slowly kills him and Kim enthusiastically bounces from relationship to relationship never taking a moment to love herself and all these people talk about these nasty things they notice in one another but never bring it to one another’s attention.
All because we’re scared of confrontation.
We change this by saying what we’re thinking and feeling.
If the chicken parmesan tastes like shit and the waiter asks us how we’re enjoying the meal, we tell them the chicken parm is leaving something to be desired.
If our boss continues to hint at giving us a raise but never does, we set up a meeting and ask her why.
If our significant other asks us how she looks in an outfit that doesn’t flatter her, we kindly tell her.
If we’re talking about someone behind their back, again and again, we grow a pair of fucking nuts or ovaries and we ask them out to coffee and have a conversation.
We lean into confrontation not because it’s easy, but because both ourselves and the people we’re confronting will be better off for it.
Which, speaking of, I really need to have a conversation with my friend.
By Cole Schafer.
I run a newsletter. It’s called Chasing Hemingway. It’s about writing and life and how the two exist so wonderfully together.