The other day I was moving furniture back and forth around the living room, sweeping up the dust and crumbs the wood floor had collected over the week. It’s my normal Saturday morning routine: wake up, eat a bowl of cereal that is far larger than the recommended serving size, then dive headfirst into a round of thorough housecleaning. (Did someone say lifestyles of the rich and famous?)
My sister, who works on Saturday mornings, came home that day to find me standing sweaty in the middle of the living room, broom in hand, and a large pile of dust at my feet, causing her to start shaking her head.
“What?” I said, trying not to dance to the Bieber song that just came on shuffle.
“I just don’t know why you like sweeping so much, vacuuming is so much faster.”
I shrugged, as did she, and then turned back to my pile of dust as she made her way up the stairs. This wasn’t the first time she’d made a comment about my tendency to reach for the broom over the vacuum, and it wasn’t the first time I’d completely disagreed with her argument. I like sweeping. I find it not only relaxing but, when I get physically to see how much dust is removed from my floor, also quite satisfying. My sister however, obviously likes the vacuum. She prefers its speed and power to the broom’s modest dependability.
Now, maybe it was the piles of dust, maybe it was the sweltering heat, or maybe it was the slow yet steady inhalation of Lemon Pledge, but as I continued to clean that day, I started to really think about the broom and the vacuum, and about what our personal preference might say about each of us.
Think about it, when you really consider a pile of dirt on the floor, or a spill on the carpet it’s a lot like an obstacle; a conflict that we have to deal with. And throughout our lives, we not only learn different ways to solve these conflicts, but ways that work most effectively for us.
Sweeping, much like tentatively talking through or steadily working out, is a very conservative approach to conflict, while vacuuming, much like attacking head on or stating outright, is much more blunt and abrasive. And much like our preferences in cleaning methods, my sister and I often approach conflict in their corresponding methodologies.
Neither of them is wrong, they are both proactive and working towards a solution, they simply offer different routes to get there. That being said however, even though we’d very much like to remain in our own ways at all times, some conflicts require us to approach them differently.
Take for example a pile of sand on a shaggy carpet. It would do me no good to take a broom to it, as I would simply spread it around or push it deeper. On the other side of things, take a pile of dirt on your back porch, a vacuum would do nothing but shoot dust in the air, once again creating an even bigger mess.
So even though we have our own approaches to conflict that will work for us most of the time, sometimes we need to look outside ourselves and our methods in order to solve a problem that is beyond our control. We need to be more patient or more aggressive, more perseverant or more blunt. Because ultimately the goal is to just clean up the mess. Even if it’s hard, even if it’s tedious, even if it puts you on your knees in front of your refrigerator wondering what the hell that sticky green stuff is on the second shelf. This is why, on the following Saturday morning, when I woke up ready to fall into my weekly routine, I took a second look at the vacuum on my way to the broom closet. Because even though I didn’t think I’d need that day, it was a nice reminder that I always had another option.