A brother and sister I know had been having some issues with one another. They had found each other particularly irritating as of late. They argued more. They just weren’t communicating. Each of them had dissolved to tears over it one day while I was there, having had yet another blow out the night before. The brother retreated sullenly to the basement, so I used the opportunity to talk with his sister for a while. After hearing her perspective on things, I went to the basement to round things out. Having heard them both, I could see where each of them was coming from. And I could also see why they weren’t seeing eye to eye. As they’d gotten older and continued to form their individual personalities, those personalities could hardly have been more different.
I brought them together and helped them talk things through. They were both already pretty worn out mentally and emotionally, but they were troopers. After some honest dialog, the biggest problem seemed to be that things that were an 8 of importance and emotional upset on her scale were a 2 on his scale, and vice versa. And this seemed to be quite a revelation to them.
What they clearly held in common was that they loved one another. So they were willing to work on understanding each other better and treading with more care in areas of individual sensitivity. In the end, it was a fruitful though hard-earned conversation.
Have you ever had this kind of breakthrough conversation with someone in your own life? After struggling for days or weeks – even longer – you knew you had no choice but to just sit down face to face and hash it out until you got somewhere. Hearts raced. Words flew. One of you got up, ready to storm out, but then took a deep breath and sat down again. You tried one more time to explain. Or to listen.
Somewhere along the line, lights began to go on and you saw each other in a different way. Maybe you laughed over some old memory that you had intended to prove a point. Or silent, unexpected tears gave you compassion again where you’d almost forgotten it. But you didn’t quit. And it paid off. Things ended with a hug and decisions to try harder. And you both meant every word.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could bottle those conversations? If the next time a similar issue arose, you could just pull the cork and pour out the peaceful ending right up front, rather than starting all over at the bitter beginning?
There just might be a way.
I’ve found that you can use a key word as a place marker when you have those conversations that cover good ground. It doesn’t really matter what the word is, as long as you both agree to it. In the case of the brother and sister, I suggested using the word “pickles.” The idea is that, the next time they found themselves repeating old patterns or feeling hurt by one another, they could remind each other of all the positive ground they’d gained by simply saying, “Hey… pickles.” That one word now held all the meaning: “I love you. I know you love me. We promised to be careful. I understand what’s going on here. Let’s not do this.” All of it.
Not only did “pickles” work like a charm on future occasions, it actually bonded these siblings together even more. They now shared a secret. And when tensions mounted, they could laugh about it. Now, it’s actually more of an expression of endearment between them than an avoidance of catastrophe.
As silly as it may sound, if you’re open to some creativity and taking yourself a little less seriously,”pickles” can hold real power.