For all of their ultimately irreconcilable differences, there nevertheless exists among the world’s wisdom traditions a trans-cultural, trans-historical consensus regarding the primary importance of identifying the nature of ultimate reality.

To put it another way, they all agree that, at the conceptual level, there is a basic distinction between reality and appearance, the world and our perceptions of the world.

They also agree that most people conflate the two, mistaking appearances for the genuine article.

The conventional wisdom, in other words, is nearly always incorrect.

Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same, and nothing is new under the sun.

The prevailing orthodoxy of our own place and time is wrongheaded on many scores.  Here, I’d like to consider its dogma on conflict-resolution, the proposition that it advances as a categorical imperative:

Whatever your problems with others, you must always talk them out and, ideally, in person.  

We’re all too familiar with this injunction.  It has both a simplicity and a plausibility that mesmerizes us into assuming, without a second’s more thought, that it must be true.

But is it?

I submit that it isn’t even close to being correct.

(1)While it’s undeniably true that a live, three dimensional exchange—being constituted, as it is, by tones, inflections, facial expressions, and other nuances precluded by the written medium—appears, all things being equal, to offer a superior mode of communication for resolving problems, this is hardly always the case.

In fact, face-to-face exchanges, because they are occurring in real time, and within the heat of the moment, so to speak, can obscure meaning, enflame passions, and actually exacerbate the conflict.

For this reason, a written message could, in the appropriate set of circumstances, be more conducive toward the amelioration of a problem than a face-to-face encounter promises to be.  This being said, some qualifications should be heeded:

(a)The message should be crafted with great care.  The messenger must seek to articulate his or her concerns with as much meticulousness as possible.  This is necessary for more than one reason:

First, it obviates the imprecision of expression that, due to the sensitive nature of the topics in question, not infrequently attends to face-to-face exchanges, for the latter are often interspersed with episodic eruptions of emotions.  Additionally, because of the unease of broaching potentially relationship-ending subjects, it’s not uncommon for the interlocutors to suppress their true feelings and thoughts, or, perhaps, refuse, even if subconsciously, to genuinely hear what the other person is saying.

Second, the very fact that one took the time to invest as much thoughtfulness as is required to compose a thorough, meticulous message underscores to the recipient the value that the messenger assigns to both the recipient and the relationship that exists between them.

(b) A written message should only ever be composed to make both messenger and recipient better in some sense.  Even if the message embodies the messenger’s reasons for terminating the relationship, both messenger and recipient are enriched inasmuch as they are made cognizant of the standing of their relationship to an extent that they wouldn’t have been otherwise.

The messenger, that is, must be motivated by no other consideration other than that of expressing him or herself in a manner that empowers both messenger and recipient in ways that they wouldn’t and couldn’t have been had the issue(s) addressed been communicated face-to-face.  Even if neither messenger nor recipient experiences an iota of pleasure over the exchange, even if both experience considerable pain, the written message must aim toward the mutual edification of both messenger and recipient.

To put this another way, a person who writes a message only because he or she feels less inhibited to say things, and say them in ways that the person wouldn’t so much as remotely have thought of doing in the presence of the person against whom the messenger’s fury is directed writes in bad faith.

The objective of substituting a written message for a spoken conversation is and must only ever be that of greater communication: The messenger decides to express a problem in a written medium, rather than face-to-face, because the messenger determines that he or she can articulate him or herself more clearly, more truthfully, more civilly, and maybe even more lovingly (depending upon the nature of the relationship) than would otherwise be possible in a face-to-face setting.

Those who abuse the medium of writing analogously to the way in which a person abuses alcohol—with an eye toward throwing caution to the wind and expressing themselves with reckless abandon—aren’t in the least concerned with improving communication.  Just as alcohol is commonly referred to as “liquid courage,” or “courage in a bottle,” so too, we can say, that the person who writes in bad faith resorts to “written courage,” or “courage in the written word.”

Of course, there’s nothing courageous about it.  Such people do not write constructively, but destructively.  They undermine their relationships and those whom they address.

(2) Some things people should never express, neither through the spoken nor the written word, to those with whom they have a problem.

(a) People should develop the self-awareness to recognize when their problems with those with whom they have a relationship are actually their problems—and theirs alone.

Everyone is dealing with their own share of shit that they’ve accumulated throughout their lives.  It is not only irresponsible, but outright cruel, for a person to blame others who didn’t have a thing to do with any of it.

Those with a reasonable degree of emotional intelligence and the level of maturity befitting an adult know this to be true and seek to live by it in their relationships.

(b)Even when those with whom one has some kind of relationship or other do indeed say or do things that don’t exactly tickle one pink, this most emphatically does not mean that one is thereby obligated to address these things—whether in the flesh or through writing.

People will live richer lives if they learn to follow another piece of conventional wisdom that most certainly does contain much wisdom: Select your battles carefully.

Some things, and possibly most, must be accepted for what they are.

By now, it should be clear that the ultimate criterion for determining what needs to be accepted and what needs to be addressed is one and the same as that which enables us to determine when the communication of problems should be expressed through writing and when they should be expressed orally, in person.

The criterion is: What’s Best for the Relationship.

As long as people consult this principle, they can rest assured that whatever they do, they know that they acted in good faith.




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