The other day I was driving and came to an intersection where I had to make a left turn. There was an oncoming vehicle who had slowed at the intersection as well. That car didn't have his turn signal on, like I did - yet he/she/they seemed to be yielding to me. I'm thinking, I'm turning left. You have the right-of-way. Can't you see my turn signal?
That's when it hit me - maybe he can't. What if my bulb is burned out and I don't know it. I found myself frustrated because someone else didn't behave how I thought that person should....but it was all based on my perspective.
If that person saw or knew what I did, then I believe he or she would have likey agreed with me about who should clear the intersection first. Maybe not, but odds would be better. However, I assumed that driver saw and understood all the signals and conditions as I did. I failed to consider that I might be the one who was bringing confusion to the situation. After all, if my bulb were burned out, then I bet I did send a confusing message from their view.
This all fits in with some character development that I've focused on over the past few months - really since the break-up. Interestingly enough, for those who don't know, the "perspectives" gained through my therapy and close friends allowed me to recognize areas where "my bulb was burned out" but I blamed my bride-to-be, not that all her bulbs were working either. However, through some self-awareness, honest communication, grace and a good couples counselor, we were able to resolve the serious issues - which turned out to be far-less serious than originally perceived.
It's all the same thing. I assumed the problems were ALL HER FAULT! I refused to consider my own culpability or even the messages I sent to encourage these things that bothered me. I fled from any sort of healthy conflict...because then I could be justified being upset with her (or the other driver) as all the facts before me were clear cut (but only the ones I brought to the intersection).
However, when I seek first to assume the other person doesn't understand what I mean and to be sure I'm not failing in my responsibility or communication - then I am not initially angry about the conflict or disagreement. If I assume from the beginning that I have done a poor job of conveying my perspective and give the other side a better picture, then in a non-personal way I can re-summarize my view to help them see what I see. Then the other side can have that moment of "Oh, I'm sorry" or "But what you can't see is..." I then can gain their perspective and together we can decide how best to proceed.
Strategies of my past were to launch facts or stats, under the assumption they understood my premise perspective and agreed with it. Often I would pull in the "strength of numbers" argument, which is when I would explain, "All my friends agree with me and think you're wrong too." But none of these methods are healthy or safe ways to resolve a conflict, although they often are emotionally satisfying (...but sometimes not).
Now, in all fairness, there isn't always time to have a fully introspective analysis and open dialog. I couldn't very easily have gotten out of my car to check the bulb while I was at the intersection. However, the turn signal is the allegory and the reality is our relationships with one another. I didn't know the driver, but I do know most of the people with whom I have conflict - and I can take the time, even if it is after the fact.
More importantly, I believe, is the habit of assuming unintended self-failure before blaming the other side. Even in short-span disputes such as the intersection, if I check myself first, being certain that I'm not contributing to the problem, then it saves me from a lot of stress and anger - even if it turns out I'm wholly right and justified, as it reminds me that I sometimes make mistakes and the other side might have just made an honest one too.
Are there others who make chronic and deliberate failings? Do some people not care to correct themselves or improve relationships? The answer is yes; however, those are more rare than we initially choose to believe. Most people don't strive to be the bad-guy; although a few are very good at it. But I now choose to deal with that after the pattern is proven rather than personalize a single incident. I try to assume I haven't done something I should...or at least verify that before I assign blame.
Oh, and as for that intersection incident...I could have sworn I had my turn signal on, but guess what?