On Confrontation and Getting Sandbagged
This entry is well worth reading. It also set me thinking about a related issue: how easy it is to get sandbagged in the course of a confrontation by the very people on whose behalf the confrontation was made.
A friend of my family had a dog that was obviously dying and suffering greatly. Unfortunately, she couldn't bring herself to put him to sleep and allow him some final respite. My wife urged me to confront our friend about this sad situation ostensibly because of my professional experience in giving bad news about human patients.
In a very compassionate, very heartfelt but very direct manner, I laid out the reality of the situation to our friend. I commented on how long her wonderful pet had lived. I carefully reiterated how much pleasure and love they had given each other but I also made clear how much pain he was enduring. I emphasized how short his life would be under even the best of circumstances. Finally, the big pitch: It was time to consider putting her beloved companion out of his suffering.
My friend's eyes welled up and it was clear that she was about to burst into tears. Rather than view this emotionality as a negative thing, I saw instead a manifestation of her impending "moment of clarity".
Unfortunately, my wife saw only our friend's sadness and helplessness. Suddenly my wife, with the best of intentions, interrupted me: "Of course, no one can really know how long your dog will live. And no one truly knows how much pain your dog is really in. You might just want to wait and see how things go."
In thirty seconds, she completely undid my efforts to get our friend to do what my wife and I both knew was the right thing. It was my wife's discomfort at seeing our friend's torment that prompted her to jump in and nullify my efforts.
Her heart was in the right place but the end still turned out poorly. The dog suffered in pain another month or so before finally passing on.
Sometimes, the unwillingness to confront and to instead undermine those among us willing to roll up their sleeves and do the dirty work arises out of paternalism or a desire to appear to be the good guy. Thomas Sowell describes an example of this.
"Back in 1997, when black Republican Congressman J.C. Watts denounced people like Jesse Jackson and then D.C. mayor Marion Barry as "race-hustling poverty pimps," House Speaker Newt Gingrich took it upon himself to apologize to Jesse Jackson.As a black politician, Watts took an amazingly courageous position by confronting certain activist "leaders" and suggesting that they were harming their own community. His position is one that many conservatives strongly believe. And yet the conservative speaker of the house (who is often heard extolling the virtue of self-sufficiency not to mention freedom of thought) cut Watts off at the knees in a cowardly and pandering manner.
To apologize for what another man said is to treat that man as if he were your child or your servant. "
Yes, confrontation is difficult for people but that doesn't change the fact that it is sometimes the necessary and the compassionate and the brave thing to do.
And to my wife who successfully made me look like an insensitive jerk: Thanks dear!