I arrived at the van one morning - when my kids were little - in time to see a hard object go whizzing by and crash into the windshield. Two of my boys were in the trunk and one was in the front seat. I flung open the door.
“What is going on?” I asked politely ('politely' might not be exactly the right adverb).
“He started it.”
“He threw it 5 times.”
“He did it harder.”
“I got hurt.”
“I didn’t do anything.”
Their accusations and defenses spilled out all over the place.
My fury turned into a more complex mixture of empathy and frustration as I put the story together. My oldest son had found a hair curler I’d left in the glove compartment (I hadn’t realized it was a dangerous weapon) and attached it to an elastic band, then sling-shotted it into the back seat. It was done light-heartedly - an amusing spontaneous gesture completely typical of a ten year old boy. Unfortunately the curler had a metal lining. The metal made it hard and it struck my other son high on his cheek near his eye. He howled. To the first son, that was part of the fun and he snatched the curler back and did it again, not thinking it could have really caused injury. The back seat 8 year old boy was furious, grabbed a large flashlight and started hurling the batteries at his assailant. My littlest son took the curler and tried to shoot it but, not quite grasping the slingshot method, it backfired and hit him in the face, (which surely was the fault of his older brother who came up with the idea). He started throwing things into the front seat too.
I think I arrived about then.
It always amazes me how quickly and powerfully misunderstandings escalate into full fledged war. Not just with our kids. It happens in our marriage. In our extended family. In our neighborhood, our church, our country. It seems so obvious when we witness it in our children’s squabbles. We tell them not to make such a big deal about it. We point out that it wasn’t done on purpose. We suggest that they work it out with words and then let it go. Sometimes we tell them to ‘grow up’ But many ‘grown ups’ have fought long bloody battles over escalated misunderstandings. Adult family members have refused contact and communication for years, sometimes lifetimes, because of a misunderstood motivation.
Getting along with people is hard. And it is really really easy to let things escalate to a point of tough return. How do we siphon out justice from the competing perspectives and how do we get to mercy while maintaining emotional integrity?
Justice requires that we hear and be heard. In the court of law, it is essential that there be a 'hearing'. A time of listening. An opportunity for outpouring. A place for sorting through perspectives. If we move too quickly to mercy, we are forced to stuff our feelings and that can only lead to a slow brewing source of eventual disaster.
So I listened. The first son really had intended no malice with his curler sling shot, but by the time he’d been battered with batteries, he did intend malice. The second son had intended no malice when he climbed into the van but after getting hit twice with a vicious curler, he did intend malice. The little one had just wanted to join in the ‘fun’ until his weapon backfired and then he also intended malice. Very very carefully we rolled back the tape to pre-malice. After awhile everyone was able to see how it happened. They were still hurt and mad but after being heard, they could see. I could see. And once our vision had cleared we could all deal with our feelings much better and move forward.
If you feel stuck in the murky 'malice' part, unable to see clearly enough to move forward with a healthy, clean perspective… then call me. I can help.