Coffee shop theology: Conflict and Cover-ups

Sometimes things don’t quite add up. At first glance everything looks okay, perfectly normal, but when you gaze a little longer, study in more detail, the order becomes disrupted.

As so often I sit alone trying to make sense of the world in which I live, the life I inhabit. In my comfortable leather armchair in a chain coffee shop I sink my double macchiato rather too quickly.

These corporate entities, they’re all the same. The same chairs and tables, artwork on the walls. I could be in any of so many, but there is something different, a hint that this re-creation had to make compromises, that the prefabricated balustrades and floor tiles had to come to an arrangement with the longer lasting historic fabric of the building it inhabits. The walls are not straight, the room is not square, the timbers that hold up the ceiling intersect with walls painted in corporate tones.

So little of our lives happen in isolation, very rarely can we create something without an external influence. We are constantly needing to find accommodation within existing realities, and prepared to negotiate our way through changes that will come along. Put simply we do not live alone.

As my Caffe Nero store in Stratford-upon-Avon sits uncomfortably beneath the Tudor beams, I come to terms with the inconsistencies that plague me. Trying to grasp why things don’t work in the way that I might chose. Reluctantly admitting that it is not feasible to plot all eventualities on a spreadsheet, comprehend the costs and benefits, and devise an appropriate strategy.

But nor is it always possible to paper over the cracks. Without careful attention I would not have noticed that the ceiling rose in one corner, or that the angles of the walls were anything but regular. Likewise I can walk through life paying only passing interest in the lives of those whose paths intersect with mine. And hope that they do not notice where my walls do not quite meet. Or where the veneer has begun to peel away at the edges or that my facade is, in fact, just paper thin.

Because when these inconsistencies rise to the surface, when they get noticed. That is when life gets difficult. The point when I accept that what I want, or think, or feel, is not the same or matched by someone who for whatever period of time joins in my story. Disagreement over plans, frustration at actions, anger over feelings. The emotions that emerge from conflict. The inevitable consequence of two or more people doing just about anything. You can embark on a task with a common cause, an arrangement of convenience, but before long differences emerge. Sometimes these can be confronted, they can be challenged or accepted, but all too often they are simply ignored.

And after a while these little niggles, these things that we do not like, and do not add up simply become part of the fabric of our lives. We accept and acknowledge our imperfections with seeming grace but which is in fact carefully shrouded resentment. I don’t like conflict, so I pretend it is not there. I stay away from challenging people, and shy away from difficult situations. Sometimes, I deny that conflict exists, but more often I just withdraw so that I do not have to face the crevice that I would rather not see.

I view conflict as a sign that something has gone wrong. And I would rather not accept that anything has. So I perpetuate the pretence that everything is okay. I cling onto the hope that if I don’t say anything the other person, other people, might never know anything was wrong.

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