Mister Cellophane abhors conflict. Even the everyday, no-harm-no-foul stuff most of us brush off after a bit of discomfort. Sometimes, he even internalizes nasty abuse and accepts that whatever it is — it’s “his fault.” Since our world is filled with conflict — much of it necessary, sometimes fruitful, and always present — Mister Cellophane sees the world as something to be avoided. He will often withdraw as much as possible from any risk-taking, adventure or even interaction.
A form of this can be seen in the Inverted Mister Cellophane. You know the type: the angry internet commenter or blogger, the one who hates the world and everyone in it. Scratch many of these people and you will find a Mister Cellophane who has withdrawn so much and suffered to such a degree that he now externalizes what he used to internalize. Once a pacifist, he is now a warhawk.
Neither form is at all healthy. Retreating from the world is to retreat from life, from experience and from purpose. It may save you pain and heartache, but it will also prevent you from having pleasure and happiness. Hating the world is not good, either, as it burns the bridges with good people in the name of aiming at the bad. In both cases, it is a recipe for for loneliness.
So…how to deal with conflict?
Much like building confidence, social skills and expanding your mind, dealing with conflict is a lifelong project. You will improve with experience, but you will screw up, too. It’s important to realize it’s not the end of the world (unless, God forbid, you get yourself killed in a fight).
Here are some key principles:
Pick your battles
Sit down right now and think of the issues you’d go to war for, and I mean really go to war. If that list is a mile long, shorten it. If it doesn’t exist, make one. You should have a small core of things you will go to the mat for which are genuinely important, if not crucial for your core being. The rest can be left to resolution.
Learn how to calm things down. Identify when your blood is boiling and act accordingly — take a walk, shut off the computer. Alternatively, concede — respectfully — that your interlocutor has a point and we should continue the conversation later.
Don’t fear disagreement
It’s OK to disagree, even strongly. We all do. Family does. Friends do. Spouses do. Yet they all continue to love each other in spite of this.
If you think you are right, say so and stick to your guns. Don’t apologize just for having a contrary opinion. Learn how to argue calmly and respectfully — join a debate team if you want to get really good at it.
Don’t “let it linger”
Don’t spend the next month thinking about a conflict or disagreement you had with someone. You can’t change the past, only your present blood pressure. If you can resolve the issue, do so. If not, move on to things you can fix.
PS I would also highly recommend following Marc MacYoung, an expert on all forms of conflict with much excellent advice on the subject—from the perspective of a guy who used to deal with the most violent kind.