I’ve met a lot of people who are deathly afraid of confrontation. I’m not going to try to pathologize this type of thing, since I’ve been guilty of it as well. But I do wonder where it comes from. What paralyzes us with fear when we think about confronting other people? More essentially, what is so mortifying about confronting ourselves?
I’ve started to realize that the relationship between confronting others and confronting oneself is deeply important. If we neglect confrontation, we are still in the realm of resistance and avoidance, and this rarely ever brings anyone any sort of lasting peace. Confrontation is important and beneficial.
You might be saying, “Well, Buddhism is about compassion and mindfulness and all of this.” Yeah, it is. But Zen is about recognizing the unspoken truths of the world. We probe nothingness for a while and we come out the other side with a better understanding of ourselves and others. Discovering an essence or a truth always creates some sort of friction between the world you thought existed and the world as it really is. Sometimes it takes us a lifetime to discover the world as it really is, but meditation expedites this process.
So, if you’re going to take the step of starting to meditate, of cultivating mindfulness, and being aware of both yourself and those around you, you’re going to reach a point where you want to confront someone, or yourself. This happens all the time. Confrontations vary from petty skirmishes to major fights. When we feel a dissonance between our thinking and our behavior, or between how we expect others to think and behave vs. how they actually think and behave, we need to make peace with that dissonance.
Sometimes, confrontation is the perfect way of making peace with some sort of issue. Meditation is, in a sense, a constant confrontation between yourself and yourself. If you spend enough time simply observing the mind in focused silence, you find a lot. You have to confront a lot of latent ideas and feelings that you don’t necessarily want to. Meditation is rarely all sunshine and puppies; it can be very painful. But this pain and fear is so important. It tells us that we’re taking a risk. We can either take the risk and transcend our pain and fear, or we can run away and let them control us. The right option is obvious.
In the same way that we learn to confront ourselves during meditation, we can find constructive ways to confront others. You can’t go through life like a doormat, no matter how pacifistic you are. Sometimes you need to approach someone and say, “Listen, what you’re doing is hurting me. I might have hurt you too but I hope we can communicate and come to a better understanding of one another.” This almost always benefits both parties.
The next time you find yourself fearful of a confrontation, try to swallow your fear and jump into it. Don’t punch someone in the face or use hateful language. Simply approach them and let them know what’s on your mind. Try to explain the dissonance in a way that they can relate to. Similarly, when you find yourself thinking difficult thoughts or residing in a place of emotional turbulence, learn to confront yourself. Try to get to know yourself better.
This requires effort, but with some mindfulness and some practice we can work collectively towards a better understanding of ourselves and one another. It’s work, sure, but it’s some of the most beneficial and peace-building work we can do.