The babysitting incident below was a relatively small one in the great scheme of things. I dealt with it with my friend, but I've continued to work it below the surface. Like the climatologist who learned that he could save himself the trouble of tramping about on wet cloudy mountains* by setting up a weather system in miniature in a lab, I am using the experience as an opportunity to gain insights on a larger Pattern.
A recurring theme in my life has been that people important to me have often not fulfilled their responsibilities and then refuse to be held accountable. To question their actions (or inactions) is to 'accuse' them, no matter how gently or neutrally I try to frame my questions. And then I'm punished with their anger and resentment. Not being able to pursue the matter to closure with them, I turned my scrutiny inward to see if I was at fault. Maybe something was wrong with how I'd perceived them. I usually gave others the benefit of the doubt.
I hate the specter of victimhood a statement like that implies, but it is true. As it is true that the same pattern shows up in all kinds of different places. From the mundane (calling Gary on having taken the trash out but having not re-lined the can so that I have to set down the armload of trash--I'd gathered up in a hurry because the baby's crying-- to take the liner that he's left folded up inside the lidded can, unfold it, line the can, pick up the trash I'd had to set down and put it in the can while listening to the crying get more urgent--to tell him that this was a real stumbling block and had cost me generated his anger toward me and added to the general resentment) to the larger life-affecting stuff, this has recurred.
I had thought the babysitting incident with my friend below was another variation on that pattern and I could gain some insight by studying it. Then I had some more insights that shook that assumption and I'm still thinking about that.
But it did give me an opportunity to meditate on the curious nature of defensiveness. I realized that when people are conflict-avoidant it is generally because anticipating the defensiveness it will raise in another person is daunting. And then to have one's own defensiveness triggered and so have mutual defensiveness is excruciatingly uncomfortable. To me it has felt like an electrified fence, a kind of repelling force field. Or like a feedback loop. Only with a twist, or a sting.
And it's funny how exquisitely tuned humans' defensiveness can be. My father said something to me once that was both painful and inexplicable. I had to mull it over for several days before I could bring myself to approach him about it. From the moment he answered the phone it was as if he could sense something was coming from me that would seem critical of his behavior--I could feel the alarms beginning to sound in him and I could feel the defensiveness. The electrical field of defensiveness seems to force ANY exchange into the mold of accusation--even if the purpose of that exchange is to seek understanding and connection. And it seems to arise instantaneously.
I wonder if there's a correlation between a person's tendency to become anxious and how readily they become defensive.
There really does seem to be a lot of it about though. It's so common it's the stuff of comedy shows and dramas--person a does something; person b is hurt but won't approach person a because person a "might get angry".
So I'm just curious.
* from Bill Bryson's book, A Short History of Nearly Everything: on page 161 he recounts the story of a British scientist C.T.R. Wilson who studied cloud formations at the top of Scottish mountain Ben Nevis. Looking for an easier way he built an artificial cloud chamber.