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posted: 7/2/2012 3:16 PM

We must work through conflict — even if time passes

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It seems there is this snail. One day he decides to visit his friend the lobster down the street. Now, the lobster is not having a good day. Hearing a knock, he stomps to the door, flings it open, and without a word of explanation other than an angry "what do you want!" he picks up the snail and tosses him back down the block.

A whole year later, another knock. The cantankerous crustacean once again goes to the door. There stands the snail, hands (?) on his hips. "Now, what was that all about?" the snail demands.

Yes, that is a joke. And it is supposed to be funny; I'm just not sure why. I suspect it has something to do with the slowness of the snail. It did get me thinking, though, especially about how we handle conflict in our relationships.

He may have been a bit slow, but give him credit: the snail did come back to confront his friend about their encounter. It would have been a lot easier (and perhaps safer) for him to just crawl away and leave the lobster to stew in his own anger. Or he could have just pretended nothing had happened, or even found some way to get even for the lobster's rudeness.

What the snail did, though, was to take the risk of dealing directly with the conflict that had come between them. He cared enough about the lobster, he valued their friendship enough and he respected himself enough, that he was not willing to let any more damage be done without first trying to fix things.

Now, since this is a joke (barely), we aren't told why the lobster is upset. Hey, maybe he'd just read the shellfish section of the Frugal Gourmet Cookbook. Nor do we know much about their friendship. We aren't even sure they are able to patch things up. That's not important.

In any relationship, whatever the circumstances, we have to consistently and constantly watch for those misunderstandings, disagreements or irritations that slowly but surely can come between us. And even if it takes us a day, or a week, or a year to get around to talking about them, we do have to talk about them.

Such talking is never easy. We'll have to take the risk of opening up, listening, compromising. Sometimes we will even have to admit we're in the wrong. But unless both partners in a relationship are willing to work through their conflicts -- big or small -- there will eventually be no relationship. We have to deal with conflict -- even if it's at a snail's pace.