The Good Fight

My husband and I had our first fight this past week.  

No, it wasn’t based on the merging of “stuff” like Carrie and Aiden’s fight in the clip above from Season 4 of SATC, but it was related to the merging of our lives.  

Like many fights that happen in marriage, it was caused by one partner needing more of something from the other partner to feed a particular love language.  As newlyweds, we are still trying to find our rhythm with each other and trying to learn each other’s ways.  And since we are similar in so many ways, being with each other has been pretty easy for the most part.  Yes, we have our individual “off” times when nothing in the world seems to help our mood; but after the past year of navigating a handful of life’s biggest challenges and biggest moments together relatively smoothly and successfully, we were wondering when that first fight would finally happen.  To be honest, I feared it.

I am someone who avoids conflict.  

Growing up, I adopted the role of the peacekeeper, the peacemaker in a home that was frequently in conflict.  I learned how to put on a mask to hide whatever sadness, anger, or fear I might have been feeling so as not to rock the boat.  In my childhood home, conflict meant yelling for hours that bled into hours, name-calling without regard for the collateral damage it created, past wounds of emotional pain being ripped open again and splattered on the walls that were barely dry from the previous argument; and days, sometimes weeks of treating someone like an unwanted poltergeist out of resentment, wounded pride, or embarrassment from an inability to admit fault.

I avoid conflict because it scares me.  But like any other person, my feelings sometimes get hurt, I sometimes need to stand up for myself, or I sometimes need to speak my mind even if it goes against the status quo.  Conflict is a part of life, and I have always wanted to be better at it, to be braver about it.

 

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He loves my silly, I love his steady. ❤

 

This was actually something that Andrew and I discussed in our premarital counseling.  We already knew that our communication, in general, is extremely effective  — we are very open with each other, we’re honest but kind with each other, and we use both verbal and nonverbal means of conveying thoughts and feelings to one another.  But because we do have such strong personalities and opinions, learning strategies for mitigating and managing conflict became a focus in our counseling sessions.  Even with this preparation, though, I wondered what our disagreements would be like.  Would we be as effective in our communication when emotions were high?

In the instance of our first fight, I fumbled my explanation for why my feelings were hurt.  Because of this, Andrew grew frustrated that he couldn’t understand my reasons for being upset (and thus didn’t know how to fix the problem — because that’s what engineers do).  Our tempers rose as our frustration built, and Andrew chose to step away from the situation that obviously wasn’t progressing.  He went into the next room to get ready for work.

This moment when he stepped away terrified me.  Was this how it happened?  How long would we go without talking to each other?  Were things going to be very different between us from now on?  My fears shuffled into the room as Andrew shut the door between him and me.

However, as difficult as those moments were because of worries that had long been engrained in me, him stepping away gave me time to get perspective and organize my thoughts.  I am much better at writing than talking.  So, phone nearby, I grabbed it and quickly typed and organized a simple list of keywords that were zipping around in my mind (a strategy that I have learned over the years).  “OK,” I thought to myself with a deep breath.  “OK, this is what I need to say.  This is why I am hurt, and this is what I need him to know.”

When Andrew came back into the room, I initiated further discussion and was able to calmly and much more clearly explain my point of view.  This was much better, and I could see the understanding in his eyes.  He came over to me and wrapped his strong arms around me in a reassuring hug to reconnect.  Then, after a little more talking, the conflict was resolved.

 

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Spock and Uhura (2009)

 

 

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One of my favorites from our wedding day — very accurately captured our personalities! (Credit: Michelle Scott Photography)

Andrew and I — both of us being Star Trek fans — have joked for a long time that he is the Spock (a longtime crush of mine) to my Uhura (a longtime idol of mine).  He is all logic, science, and stoicism.  Very rarely does he allow emotion to dictate his actions or decisions.  I am all feeling, intuition, and spice.  Emotion is at the core of everything I do.  What we have in common, though, is our ability to reason and our focus on what matters most.  And what matters most in our relationship is respect, kindness, and love.

 

When we talked about it later, we both agreed that it was a relief that “the first fight” finally happened.  We did it respectfully, it wasn’t apocalyptic, and it was actually productive.  We each have some improvements to make, sure.  We’re beginners, but we’re quick learners.  It was especially a relief to me to know that an argument could start and end in the same amount of time it takes someone to get ready for work (although, preferably not WHILE that individual is trying to get ready for work).  And those types of conflict really do bring you closer together, make you stronger, make you better.

It was a good fight.

I was fortunate this week to be somewhat of an audience to part of another fight altogether: the struggle for an education, the struggle for change.

 

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Rackie, Theresa, Lawrence, and me 🙂

 

In the photo above are Rackie, Theresa, and Lawrence: three students who I met in person recently, but have known for the past eight months through the digital video conferences (DVCs) between my former STEM students in the US and Cathedral Catholic High School here in Monrovia.  These were three of the students who participated the most and were the most excited about the cross-cultural, international opportunities we had created for them.  Their personalities and passion for education affected me so much that meeting them face-to-face was high on my priority list once I arrived in Liberia.

This is a remarkable group of students who represent the best of Liberia: warm people, fighting the good fight of improving themselves so they can improve others and, in turn, lift up their country.  With the majority of school-age children in Liberia not attending school regularly (if at all), these young people are already at a huge advantage and are that much closer to their dreams of success.  Theresa wants to be a doctor or a science teacher.  Rackie wants to be “the best doctor of medicine in the world.”  And Lawrence would like to be a pastor or a teacher.

Theresa is now a freshman in college.  She is working toward a BS in biology.  She stood out at the time of our DVCs for her outspokenness, her determination, and her friendliness.  Only when I interviewed her last week did I learn that she was incredibly shy until her senior year of high school when I met her.  This was surprising to learn since she was the most animated and personable of all the students in the CCHS group, and the way she organizes and presents her ideas on the spot seems like she is well-practiced in impromptu interactions!  She is phenomenal, really, and I admire her a great deal.

In our first DVC, Theresa said something that I have wanted to ask her about ever since.  She said she was determined to reach her goals and knew she would eventually because she has her 3Ts: time, talent, and tithe.  Unfortunately, because of our time constraints, I wasn’t able to ask follow-up questions about these 3Ts, but her assuredness astounded me and her words have echoed in my thoughts since then.  I had to know more.

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It took almost exactly one year, but I finally got the opportunity to ask Theresa about her slogan.  She smiled when I brought it up in our interview, and her response was as well-crafted as one a practiced public speaker would give:

I watched an interview on tv with a great doctor in Ghana.  When I saw his office, his wall was covered in certificates.  At that time, I needed someone to look up to as a role model.  In the interview, he said he had a lot of challenges in his life.  He even had to work and go to school at the same time.  But he was able to do it, and he said he wanted to encourage everyone to go after their dreams with their 3Ts: Your talent–this is what you were given, so you should use it to give to others as much as you can; don’t waste it, don’t let it die.  Your time–you should always put in the time to work hard.  And your tithe–what has been given to you, you should give some back to God according to the commandment in the Bible, and God will bless it, God will bless you in what you are trying to accomplish.

The fight to improve themselves to help improve their nation was a consistent theme in my interviews with these three students.  When I asked them about what they’d like to see improve in Liberia, a common answer between them was that they want to see the mindset of Liberians change.  

Rackie said this starts with being focused on education: “We are very conscious about education, and we have high expectations when it comes to learning.  We have some youth who are delinquent and don’t want to learn.  Most of us want to learn, and that makes me proud.”  This makes him proud because they’ve all heard “Liberia will never change” from plenty of Liberians, but with education comes the hope that things could improve for this struggling nation.

“I want us the citizens to begin to change our mindset,” Lawrence said.  “If we are not thinking in a positive direction, there is no way we will acquire positive things.”

“One thing that is killing us here — everyone follows the same pattern.” Theresa chimed to echo Lawrence’s sentiments.  She went on to explain the lack of consideration given to long-term planning and investment.  Very few people, she said, want to “do little things that come out big.  No one wants to make their own path.”  

Then, referencing Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” her passion grew.  “They say you should take the road less traveled to make change.”  From her experience, however, she explained that most Liberians see the road often taken and choose that path for themselves and even their children.  For instance, a girl might say, “My mom has a business, and I will grow and learn that business, and then I will continue it just the way it is.”  They don’t try to grow the business or themselves.  “They have small dreams and small mindsets,” she laments.

Theirs is a good fight, these young people who want to see a better future for Liberia.  

In election season, especially, it was encouraging to hear young people speak so eloquently and knowledgeably about politics, economics, culture, and education during our two-hour long interview.  If they represent the best and brightest of Liberia’s days to come, then I am optimistic that this nation will be renewed as individuals like Lawrence, Rackie, and Theresa become her leaders.   

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