#paganvalues the truth about consequences

This entry is part 17 of 27 in the series Pagan Values Month

While others are exploring Pagan ideals in terms of Pagan values month, I think my Writer Self  is leading me to “how those values work in action,” or at least “what complications arise from those values.” A lot of my posts, from looking over them, do talk about my ideals, yes, but focus on human behavior, how people react to these values, and at times how people consciously or unwittingly ask for others to compromise their values.

It’s a strange example, but the incident cropped up in my mind last week:

When I first moved to Mankato, I volunteered with the theater department for the summer play. It got me free food during a time when I had no money for food, and gave me minimal exposure to the folks of Mankato. In one of my first assignments,  some house manager assigned me to work concessions, and so I did the cute college-girl thing and distributed candy bars to the masses in exchange for loose change. I must note here that I also worked as a cashier at Wal-Mart during this time: they liked to ding female employees for anything possible, and Canadian change emerging in the cash drawer of a US store was a favorite excuse added to long lists kept designed to prevent hard-earned raises. This tendency made me preternaturally vigilant about what crept into my drawer.

A woman came over to buy a candy bar from me, and gave me two Canadian quarters. I saw she had bills in her billfold, and we had plenty of change to give out. I handed them back, explaining they were Canadian and we needed US funds. I thought she had made an honest mistake.

She waved her hand and said “Oh, it’s fine!” and handed it back to me. I repeated the issue again.

She then repeated, “It’s fine,” and handed it back to me.  This went on until she got aggravated and left. I was told only then by the house manager that she was a major donor to the program, and that I’d just royally pissed her off. She also had a habit of dropping her Canadian coins during these theater events. I didn’t feel too bad about it – if they were that concerned, they should have said something up front about her habit, and no one did. Eventually the woman got her candy bar, and I got my first paycheck two weeks later, so I didn’t need to hang around the theater like a stray cat looking for food.

Still, both of us thought we were in the right. She donated major funds to the theater in which I sat (and she had no idea I was not a theater student and benefited mainly from the afterplay pizza, funded by someone else.) To her, spending a couple of Canadian quarters should not be a big deal. To me, the theater department could not then spend those quarters again – vending machines and banks rejected them, so if I let them in circulation, they could well end up in my own cash drawer or in the drawer of another hapless low-wage employee. Some places even took Canadian coins out of a person’s paycheck – not a great way to go.

The consequence for her was
a)I challenged her sense of entitlement and
b)she got upset over a candy bar.

The consequence for me was
a)I was unlikely to be called back to volunteer again (burned bridge)
and b)I’m pretty sure I made an enemy, although it’s doubtful the woman would have ever been a friend.

I was trying to do what was right. By doing what was right, I actually created a bigger problem for myself. This woman felt that in a grand scheme of things, her quarters either a)did no harm (I disagreed, from the perspective of personal experience) or b)that she was “owed” this indulgence because of the big tickets she wrote at other times. She also had no idea I also worked as a cashier at Wal-Mart, and had no conception that Canadian quarters were a source of dwindled paycheck and daily hassle for me. I suspect that the situation would have come about in a different way if we had known these details about each other beforehand. The woman might still have given me the Canadian quarters, but commented that it would not come as a personal consequence to me in the volunteer situation. Perhaps if I’d known she was a donor, I would have shrugged and given her the candy bar free, even digging up change myself (assuming I had any. My first three months in Mankato were extraordinarily tight and difficult.) It’s not like accounting was terribly tight for concessions there.

This is not a blog post on the value of protecting your country’s currency, or on how you can screw up someone’s life with a misspent penny. That stuff is nearly impossible to track, and it’s far too easy to pass the wrong change on literally and metaphorically. You can give yourself a complex with the amount of vigilance tracking that can take.

What I have learned is that consequences are impossible to avoid. Yet we spend a great deal of energy and time trying to avoid the consequences of our actions. I think part of this comes from the win/lose mentality overdeveloped worldwide. I do think that there is also a great deal of fear – sometimes we don’t know who in a relationship really has the power until one person raises an issue, and attempts to define conduct. When we engage in conflict, instead of resolving to transform the situation more tenable for all, a lot of us don’t just want to win, we want to make sure the other person loses – and this often happens even when a win/win situation is totally viable. What so many of us want is to “be ourselves,” but be ourselves in a way where we are not held accountable for when “being ourselves” means getting drunk and harassing someone, being sober and grabbing someone’s ass, or breast, or package (and trying to claim that’s “just flirting” when it’s actually a form of sexual assault unless you are in a very specific relationship with that person) or

Common consequence avoidance tactics include the following. At some point, we all do them:

Denial“No, there’s no problem,” “I don’t see it,” “I didn’t do anything wrong,” “There’s only one guilty party here,” “I’m the victim, and my actions did not contribute.” In a recent book I read, an author created a great acronym for denial: Don’t Even Know I Am Lying. Recognizing denial in others, unfortunately, does nothing for our own denial – because we don’t see it until we’re out of it, and does fuck all for those near us going through denial.

Avoidance – often happens in the first stage after denial, when the person realizes that there are consequences for action  AND inaction. “I won’t talk to you,” “I won’t engage,” “I won’t hear your side of it.” While it doesn’t look like avoidance, another version is to insist that a person’s intent is not relevant to an actual event. This establishes a supposition that one person knows the thoughts of another. We can’t know the other person’s intent/thoughts, so it’s actually a combination of denial and avoidance.

Blame“I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t ____.” “It’s all your fault,” “It’s all men/women/rich people/people on welfare/corporations/society’s fault,” and a longtime favorite, “______ ruined my life!” (I have “ruined the life” of one guy by calling his ex to tell her to leave town after he fully detailed to me how he planned to do her bodily harm. My mother blames ME for the embarrassment this man caused her – a secondary consequence to murder, imprisonment, or injury, and one she survived.)

Here’s the tricky thing with blame: the person we accuse may well be at fault. The problem with that is blaming/accusing that person in situations where the law refuses involvement does NOTHING but inhibit your growth.

Excuses – Any acknowledgment of the behavior that is intended to someone exclude the person from accountability for his/her actions. “I was drunk/he was drunk/she was drunk,” “I wasn’t feeling well,” “You know I’m under a lot of stress.” We all have contributing factors to our behavior. I’d love it if “drunk” stopped being used as a reason to just ignore bad behavior – if you wouldn’t do/say certain things sober that you do drunk, you SHOULD NOT DRINK. You should also ask yourself WHY you have to be drunk to do those things, especially since you want to do them and that’s why you’re drinking.

The other statements should not apply as excuses; if given truthfully, these circumstances can be used as building blocks in transforming the conflict into a win/win situation.

Most of the time, we say and do these things away from the people we actually have the problem with. While I do not believe confrontation solves every problem, I do think that there are methods of confrontation that could radically change interactions for the better. I do think that facing truth about our actions and the results of our actions can happen and possibly open the door for transformative conflict resolution. (Only applicable in some situations. Offer void in cultures where it just won’t work.)

I think one of the biggest challenges of the human condition is that, when in interacting with one another when a perceived or real injustice pops up, is that we do cycle back to the need not just to “win” but to see the other person lose. Maybe on some level we’re all a bunch of gorillas fighting for dominance, but as social creatures, we also know that a common good ensures our survival much better than a constant personal best that comes from constantly taxing other members of our tribes by taking their dignity.

Here’s the thing: in both good and bad situations, there are consequences. While usually good situations lead to good consequences, sometimes they don’t. Bad situations, or situations where you feel bad that may objectively harm no one,  still have consequences . When you try to rectify a situation that is factually bad (loss of money, property, relationship, or physical ability) versus one that is perceptually bad (loss of a sense of safety, a sense of dignity or a sense of respect – these are valid as long as they are connected to something physically bad, such as legitimate documented fear of physical harm)  either way there are consequences.

When things go well/you get what you want, you may not think of them as consequences. A friend embarrassed you, and you tell that person so. That person apologizes, and promises not to do it again. (Most people, unfortunately, still want more than that at this juncture.) The matter is settled, and you go for coffee.

On the other hand, the person that embarrassed you counters that you embarrassed them by using crass language in front of her grandmother. You did, in fact, drop a few F-bombs before granny. You felt you were a)being yourself, b)that you weren’t hurting anyone and/or c)that such behavior was kosher since you’re all adults. No one was physically harmed by your coarse language, although your friend probably caught some extra hell from Grandma after you left, and for all you know wound up getting cut from the will because of how you acted.  The consequence to your demand for consequences was a demand upon yourself.  At this point, if you try to make this a win/lose situation, you will very likely permanently lose a friend.

The order of choices (ganked from my notes from my  Conflict Resolution classes in college)

W/L win/lose                          one person is declared the victor and gets what s/he wants

L/L lose/lose                       commonly called compromise, as both parties lose

W/W win/win                           an agreement is reached where both parties not only benefit, but gain something

The usual option taken in the US American mentality is to insist on being right and consequently lose the friend. “Good” friendships and relationships are defined by compromise, which to me also does not seem like a building option although it is the easiest way to a quick and short-term peaceful resolution. The problem with compromise is that both parties do end up losing, AND both harbor resentments about the loss.

Win/Win is the hardest to achieve, and lives almost outside of the US dichotomous mentality. It also takes the most time, effort and a radically different worldview that goes against the majority of Western cultural indoctrination. It requires both parties to say “If you build x,” rather than “If you give up x.”

The Win/Lose is obvious in the “Who embarrassed who,” contest. One person apologizes, and the other person doesn’t have to.

Lose/Lose is the easiest: both parties apologize. Sit com/Kodak moment, while resentments fester.

Win/Win: harder to quantify, but not impossible. Perhaps the pair start a comedy show featuring angry grandmothers. Perhaps they learn about each others’ backgrounds, and consciously identify strengths to tap on in each other in different situations. Perhaps they create a dossier system that establishes signals for “shush,” “leave” or “check his ID,” and that features exactly what words NOT to use in front of each others’ grandmothers, conveniently available in a SmartPhone friendly app. Win/win takes the most effort and is the hardest to achieve, because not only do both parties have to give up on the high of seeing the other person “lose,” they also have to genuinely feel a sense of winning from the solution. That takes considerable creativity.

The fact is, no matter what we do good or bad, consequences are connected to our every action and decision – and that also includes the reactions of others when we feel we are “delivering” rather than “receiving” the consequences of a social interchange. Consequence is a natural result of all movement; conflict is a natural occurrence within any chain of consequences.

So that means that we need to accept, in all interactions, a reaction that may or may not give us what we “want.”  A family member won’t accept responsibility for his/her actions. A friend may point out rightly your own faults. Instead of protecting the win or seeking a loss, introducing creative new consequences of exploring territory may help us if not solve all our problems, give us something so different to do with each other that resentment has nowhere to live.

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