Happy New Year 2020

For 2020, I have but one wish: I wish that we could all just get along.

It is too easy to blame others for what is wrong with our lives, our families, our jobs, our country, our world.

I read an article last year, written by someone who had worked on the peace process in, I think, Serbo-Croatia and Rwanda, who said that the only way for two irreconcilable sides to come together and heal is for each side to accept 100% accountability for it to happen. Each side must say, I am 100% responsible for what is going on and for making it better.

That has stuck with me. It has stuck with me as I’ve listened to an old friend describe the conflict with a teenaged son. It has stuck with me when a friend commented, while watching HGTV, about two people purchasing a house off the grid in South Dakota, “Oh, those people are preppers.” It has stuck with me as mainstream TV personalities – so far behind the times, as usual – have taken up the “OK Boomer” meme. It has stuck with me as people have complained about “the other side” in politics. Whatever is wrong is “the other side’s” fault.

We’re always the other side for someone. Until we all accept responsibility for making the world a better place, for getting along with those that we disagree with, things will remain in an impasse.

It’s easy to say, “Oh, I accept responsibility. It’s that other person’s fault. They don’t accept responsibility.” As the friend with the teenager does.

And, certainly, he is very provocative – teenagers often are; that is the nature of being a teenager. At that stage in your life, you crave independence but often lack the mature decision-making ability to earn it in the ways that adults in your life want you to. The things that are so important to you seem inconsequential to your parents. Your self-esteem takes a beating every day because the things that used to make you feel confident no longer do; the things you used to be able to depend on are suddenly revealed to be imperfect. Your body is coked up on teen hormones and you ricochet from one mood to another. And the adults in your life often forget what it was like to be that age.

My friend’s brother, irritated by this child, demands, “What is his problem?” I remind him that, at an age not much older than that, he left the Ivy League school he had worked so hard to get into, bummed around spending all his time in the gym and trying to perfect chocolate chip cookie recipes, to the grave despair of his parents. He stormed at them when they wouldn’t pay for him to go to cooking school – something they saw as reckless – and, after earning a degree that satisfied no one, basically stopped speaking to them. He didn’t return their calls; if he answered the phone and it was them, he hung up as quickly as possible. (He recalled recently, his father reaching out, saying I want to understand you and support you. Let’s start with what the heck is wrong with you.) He refused to attend family gatherings and, when he did, fought the same battles with his parents repeatedly, neither side able to break the pattern. His parents were at wits end.

“But that was different,” he told me dismissively. “I never told my parents to F-off or called them names.”

Not to their face, no. But in his heart he did. And they knew it and were hurt and confused by it; as hurt and confused as his sister is now by the behavior of her own teen. And they were as clueless about how their behavior provoked this rage in him as she is about how her own behavior triggers rage in her son.

As we are all clueless about how our behavior triggers rage in those who disagree with us about politics. Or work policies. Or religion. Or whatever.

Yes, it can be provoking when “the other side” so complacent in their belief that they are right, refuses to consider the impact of what they are doing on other people. It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if they’d just wake up and think differently – more like us, for example, because we clearly know what is right for them to believe and do.

Ah yes.

My friend and her son are both faced with an opportunity to learn something about the world and getting along with other people that they need to learn. If he doesn’t learn the lesson now, he will be doomed to repeat it throughout the rest of (what I hope is) a very long life, until he finally catches on. If she doesn’t learn the lesson, she will also repeat it over and over – and maybe already is repeating a lesson she did not learn earlier in her life. And now she will have to learn it the hard way. Harder, especially because she is older and has less neuroplasticity. And, until she recognizes this, she cannot accept 100% responsibility for this conflict; and she cannot expect him to.

We cannot escape the consequence of our actions; our actions are the path on which we walk.

Even when we do not see the path.

Seeing is the first step.

For 2020, I wish you clear vision, insight to recognize your path, and the courage to take 100% responsibility for the conflicts in your life.

No matter how wrong the other party is, and how they refuse to be accountable.

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