The petty issue itself is seldom the root cause of the dispute. It is just a catalyst for a larger and often long running conflict.

We all have our own set of values. These are the rules by which we live our lives. They tell us right from wrong, just from unjust, fair from unfair. When someone else who has a different set of values than us says or does something that is contrary to our value system, it triggers us and makes us feel upset.

If it happens once, or the person is unknown or insignificant to us, we can usually shrug it off. If it happens repeatedly, the frustration builds up. Each time, we become more angry until finally we may say something to the person. Depending on how we tell them and how they feel about us and our feelings, they may be more respectful of the impact their behaviour is having on us. Or they may not care. OR, they may do it even more often, because they know it bothers us.

I am pretty good at managing my emotions and am fairly self-aware. However, when one of my kids leaves their dirty dishes in the kitchen sink instead of putting them in the dishwasher, I struggle to contain my anger. Why? The act itself is not significant. I struggle so much because I value a tidy home and I expect everyone to contribute to it. I have also been asking them to do this on a daily basis for over a decade and they still will not do it with any consistency. I do not think that it is fair that myself or someone else has to put these dishes in the dishwasher for them. This is my value system and I as a parent, I am trying to instil the same values in my children. When their behaviour is contrary to my teachings and expectations, it makes me feel like I am failing as a parent. Each time this, and so many other small things happen, my frustration and anger builds. They know very well that it makes me angry when they do it, but still they leave the dishes in the sink. That makes me feel disrespected by my own children.

Eventually, it exceeds my ability to self-regulate and I act out in anger over what appears to be a small thing. But to me, it is a catalyst for many other things.

So if you’re doing little things that you know bother someone you care about, have the courtesy to respect their feelings and values. As long as it doesn’t directly violate your values in a significant way, put the dishes in the dishwasher or squeeze the toothpaste from the end of the tube like a civilized person…for crying out loud!!!


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