I want to tell you a little story. Not about anything dramatic. On the contrary, it’s very ordinary.
So ordinary, in fact, that the many onlookers who must have been standing around didn’t bat an eyelid when they overheard this brief conversation in a busy butcher shop. Hardly surprising that it made no impression on them because, seemingly, there was nothing to be impressed by.
Except for one highly perceptive soul whose finely tuned spiritual antennae were able to pick up subtle nuances far above the heads of the rest of us. He is a man who often speaks in public, and he was excited by what he had overheard in the butcher shop that day that he just couldn’t wait for the first opportunity to share the story with a public audience.
And thanks to his fortuitous presence in the shop just at that moment, I’m able to share it with you as well.
A young woman came into the shop and asked for freshly ground beef. The butcher told her that he had just ground some beef and held up a bag for her inspection.
She examined the bag, but rejected it. It was too white, she claimed. The butcher assured her that the reddest meat turns white in the grinding process, but his young customer wouldn’t bite. She remained unconvinced.
The butcher didn’t flinch. He held up some red meat for her examination and asked her if it met with her requirements. She confirmed that it was in order, and the butcher put it through the grinder. He politely handed the woman the resulting product without saying a word. It was just as white as the already ground beef he had originally offered her.
As I said, a most unremarkable incident. At this point, if the audience reacted at all, it was only to express their great amazement that the lecturer had seen fit to mention such a trivial incident at all. What was he trying to prove?
But it only took a couple of seconds for the speaker’s palpable sense of excitement to infect everybody in the room.
“Look,” he said, “what would you have done had you been in this butcher’s place. “What would you have said as you handed over the meat and handed the customer’s money?”
That answer, of course is obvious. What would any “normal” person have said, if not for something like: “Isn’t this just what I told you? When you grind the meat, it turns white.”
“And could you have restrained yourself?” asked the lecturer rhetorically. “I could never have restrained myself.”
But the butcher did restrain himself.
Now, for most of us, there comes a time in our life when we have to make a choice: do we want to be right or do we want to be loved? When people interact with each other, conflict is inevitable. That’s a fact of life we can’t run away from. But when handled properly, conflict need not drive the parties further apart. On the contrary, it could bring them closer together.
This is especially true of intimate relationships. Occasional conflict can even promote intimacy.
The truth is that conflict is hardly ever the problem. What tears the heart right out of potentially good relationships is the stubborn streak in the best of us that insists that we are always right on all occasions and in every circumstance. By implication, that means that the other side is never right.
In other words, when something goes sour, our partner is always to blame. And the secret wish of every “blamer” is that the other side will yet wake up one fine morning and say: “Gee, honey, now I understand the error of my ways. You were right and I was wrong. Please forgive me for upsetting you so much!”
Isn’t it sad that such a morning never comes?
Now when, through sheer determination, we manage, once and for all, to pull ourselves out of the blame mode that’s somehow almost our second nature, that’s great. We’re well on the way. But we should know that we have not necessarily reached the highest level yet.
Let’s take another look at our story. What did our butcher gain by not gently pointing out, as he handed over the goods and took the money, that he was right all along? If he had said it politely and tactfully, the good lady would surely have not taken offence.
But the butcher was concerned with the woman’s ego, not his. If, by keeping his mouth shut – even if that ran contrary to plain human nature – he could spare his customer the small embarrassment of knowing that she had been in error, and even if it would have been an embarrassment lasting only a few seconds – why not?
And as we should know, putting the needs of the other party before your own is putting yourself on the fast track of the royal road to happiness.
Azriel Winnett is creator of Hodu.com – Your Communication Skills Portal at http://hodu.com. This popular free website helps you improve your communication and relationship skills in your business or professional life, in the family unit and on the social scene. New articles added almost daily. Visit Azriel’s blog at: http://hodu.com/blog.