Poker Faces, Conflict & Interesting Times

I have no poker face. This is a problem.

Most people have a modicum of ability to hide the emotions they are feeling in the moment so as not to hurt others’ feelings or to complicate their interactions. Apparently this is not a strength of mine. At least according to my wife. Or my friends. Or my coworkers.

There are many consequences to this inability to fake it, but the most frustrating is that it’s difficult to avoid conflict. If I am annoyed, you know it. If I think you’re being an idiot, you’ll know that too. So I end up in more arguments and tense conversations than I’d like.

I spend a lot of energy trying to avoid conflict, and for good reason. Conflict is hard and often hurts. It causes problems that are not easily solved. So I often avoid it the best I can.

Technology can be a huge help in confict avoidance. While face-to-face interaction forces us to deal with each other on a personal and often raw level, things like email, Twitter or Facebook provide time, distance and sometimes anonymity. The internet age has given us a huge poker face to help maneuver the collisions of personality and opinion. We can choose to say the easy things or avoid engaging the conflict altogether.

The problem is that conflict is not a bad thing. In fact, according to Donald Miller, it can be a very, very good thing. Heroes are born by confronting conflict. Without this tension, our stories – our lives – quickly become stale and boring.

Growth comes from tension and conflict – the key is finding the right amount.

It’s like polishing silver. You need a little bit of rubbing and abrasion to clear away the smudges. Too much and you end up with a scratched up piece that no longer holds the same value.

There’s a famous Chinese saying: “May you live in interesting times.” In other words – may your life be full of obstacles and difficulty so as to prevent your happiness. It’s meant to be a curse for someone whom you do not wish to succeed – as if conflict leads to an unfulfilled life.

The apostle Paul, however, approaches conflict from a different angle:

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” 1 Peter 4:12-13 (MSG)

So don’t be afraid of conflict or hide behind some technological poker face. Have difficult conversations in person. Speak the truth to one another in love. Pursue healthy conflict in the name of things that are right, true & noble.

Because there is deeper understanding and resolution on the other side of conflict. Because struggles create interesting stories.

May you live in interesting times.

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