Making Conflict Productive


Conflict is unavoidable. How we respond to it makes a difference in its outcome. Personally I had never before given a whole lot of thought to turning the table on my conflict. Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if we could all transform our battles so that we could profit from them?

I did not have a whole lot of negative encounters in my young adult life. Things began to change rapidly however, after I became a mother of seven and a full time care-taker. Those who knew the ins and outs of my life continued to treat me with love and respect. I must say that unfortunately society on a whole was not as kind to a woman with seven young children. As a result I began to experience a decline in my self worth. Every negative encounter would make me feel a lot worse.

I had one of my worst encounters at the pinnacle of my sliding self worth. On that day I momentarily forgot the lessons taught me as a child: important lessons which included forgiveness, kindness and the greatest fruit of the spirit, which was love. The realization of this came to me after I started to reflect on a comment a woman at my daughter's dance school made. She called my daughter "a little black girl."

Dance class was just finished for my three-year-old. Some of the mothers were having idle chatter in the hallway. Two other moms and I were changing our children's clothes in a waiting room/ playroom. I was on one side of the room; the other mothers were on the other. One mother had a little boy and the other had a girl. The mother with the boy had him give the girl next to him a candy. It was Valentine's Day and this was the customary thing to do. I was not cognizant of the events that followed. I did however, hear the little girl's mother telling her child in a voice loud enough for me to hear, that my daughter was a little black girl. My daughter was very light skinned, enough so that the other child would not have been able to tell the difference between them.

I looked over in the women's direction after the remark was made. The boy's mother looked shocked. She then instructed her child to give my daughter a candy. The child walked over immediately and handed my daughter the candy. She thanked him and he walked back to his mother. Strangely enough I was not even offended. I just continued doing what I was doing without the slightest change in my demeanor.

Just as I was about to walk out the door with my three children, the girl's mother's said to me, "Do you home school your daughter?"

I had my seven-year-old daughter and my fourteen-month-old son with me. "Yes," I replied quite politely.

"How is that for you?" she questioned.

"Tedious at times but I need to spend time with her. When she was younger I had someone helping me with my children and I did not get to spend as much time with her."

"Oh, you were working?"

"No. I never worked", I said sharply.

"When I lived in South Africa I had a maid." She was now on the defense.

The little boy's mother tried to come to my defense at this point. "How could you expect her to work? She has three children."

"No," I said pointedly. "I have seven children. Three birth children and four adopted children." I could tell that my response shocked the woman who had tried to come to my defense.

"There are seven children in the house?" she questioned. I did not respond. She took her son and left the room. The girl's mother did not. She inquired about my adopted children's mother. She then continued to tell me about a number of black women she came in contact with in South Africa. The women she talked about had numerous children. They were very poor and oppressed by their husbands. One woman who worked on this woman's parents' farm was tied up by her husband. She was then forced to watch on helplessly as her children starved to death. Another woman had eighteen pregnancies and only one child survived. Men had countless wives with many, many children. The families all had only one income. Her family, she stated, helped numerous black African women obtain sterilization at no cost to the women. On many occasions their husbands were unaware and their consent was not obtained.

As if the picture she was painting was not vivid enough she paused and asked, "Have you ever been to Africa?"

"No," I replied and went on to tell her about some of the countries I had visited and some of the cultural problems I had encountered. Her response to what I was saying was that those were very common problems.

"Because something is common does not make it right. These kinds of behaviors have profound effects on people's lives," I said to her. I was more passionate about issues that directly involved children.

She frowned at me and said, "You can say that because you understand." She took her child by the hand and exited the room. Her demeanor appeared rather unhappy. I must admit that I was confused. What was her point? Why be resentful of me? Was it because of all the sufferings she had seen in other black women lives and here I was living as leisurely as she? Did she interpret my silence as approval of her statement?

The silence was in my children's best interest. The whole thing went over their heads. As we talked, her daughter ran around the room and played with my children. This could have been the whole reason for her unhappy appearance and her choosing to change her child on the other side of the room. It certainly did not have anything to do with candy but more to do with changing her child along side a black one. Her child did not fully get the message that day. Had I made a fuss both her daughter and mine would have learned the apartheid lesson.

I learned about her family background in the short exchange we had. I was more saddened than impressed. The remark she made to her daughter had somehow clouded my mind. I see my daughter, as being more than just another little black girl. She is a precious gift to me from God. God in His infinite wisdom created all of us for His enjoyment. How colorless the world would be if he had made it all green. We need to take responsibility for our folly. There was no benefit in poisoning the mind of our children all in the name of protecting them from other innocent children.

As I ponder over the events of that day it reminded of a poem I had written several years ago based on a similar experience that I had. I called the poem There's More to me. It says:

When I am out there on my own,
No one knows about my home.
Some only care about the color of my skin,
And my knowledge doesn't mean a thing.
They judge me by what they see,
And there's no mention of the real me.

There's more to me than meets the eye.
For I have a heavenly Father in the sky.
He even cares about the birds,
And in spite of what you've heard,
He knows my heart and very thoughts,
And all about the fights I've fought.

There was a lot more to my daughter. She was a little girl who can say that she was the pride and joy of both her parents. She was a child whose parents were willing to take time out to invest it in her. Yet on that day as her mother I felt I had to defend my position. I had also learned the lessons by which society sometimes judge us. Outwardly I was very controlled, but inwardly I was beginning to doubt myself worth. I had years earlier made a conscious decision to put aside my career in order to raise my family. Having a profession was as equally important to me as having a family. I did not expect to have had sacrifice one for the other. That woman's words would have had very little effect on me if I had been able to come to terms with my new role in society. My precious role as a fulltime wife and mother was becoming obscure. I could not help but feel that I was being compared to those helpless women.

A lot has changed for me since that encounter. I am now a published author. I gleaned from all my emotions that resulted from my challenges. I used them to create a poetry collection. The poem "There is more to me" is also a part of that collection. Appropriately named "Fantasy/Controversy or My Reality," the anthology was dedicated to hurting children everywhere. It is not only about adversity, but also the good, the bad, the happy and the sad. To continue my dream to make a difference in the lives of hurting children, a part of my royalties from this book will be contributed to agencies that provided services for abused children. For more information about this visit my web-site at http://home.earthlink.net/~rgarnes

Ruth Andrews Garnes was born in Belize the second of six children. She moved to New York City at age eighteen. After studying nursing she worked in the emergency room in Bellevue Hospital. She currently resides with her husband and seven children in the Houston Texas area. Having always had a heart for hurting children she adopted four sisters. Through her writings she hopes to be able to make a difference to hurting children everywhere by giving a voice to their struggles.


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