Tag Archives: relationships

On public conflict.

4 Apr

let’s get it on in public
– Kelis

My lover and I argue often, and often in public. We’re both kind of combative and whatever is the opposite of conflict-averse – trigger-happy, perhaps, or just straight-out aggressive. So a conversation about biscuits can easily turn into “I can’t believe you like white chocolate, that’s the most disgusting thing ever and even worse than your taste in men for example BRUCE WILLIS” and “yeah well YOUR FACE and your mum’s face and your blog’s typeface BOOM ps I hate your dress, it’s not ironic it’s just ugly”.

That’s an absurd example but you get the idea. I don’t think it’s better or worse than other ways to communicate, but for us I think it’s effective, intuitive and pretty fair because we’re evenly matched. I’m aware it can be threatening or at least uncomfortable for bystanders, and sometimes we’ll defer an argument or step inside. I appreciate that there are situations where it’s not fair on other people to make them party to our shouting match, and even if we know it’s all in good faith, it doesn’t necessarily appear so.

But I think there can also be this sort of genteel aversion to fighting in public which I dislike and distrust. It enshrines very specific cultural norms, prioritising values of discretion, pride and composure over passion, vulnerability, and spontaneity. It assumes access to more appropriate spaces, usually private property. And I think ultimately it can be dangerous because it hides away interactions that could sometimes use a witness and the accountability  that provides.

I attended a workshop recently on alternatives to police and responses to conflict. The participants talked about the different situations in which they might intervene, how, and what would help them to take action. I think it’s worth asking whether you have a problem with the behaviour at hand, or with it being in public, and sometimes that’s a difficult question to answer. And of course I know some behaviour is made unacceptable by its context, and especially by being inflicted upon a non-consenting audience.

I want to hear your thoughts:
• If you’re aware of a conflict between two people you know, what would it take for you to intervene?
• Does it make a difference if you witness the conflict directly?
• Where is the line between being a witness to abuse and being subjected to it?

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