Notes on conflict

When my master and I were walking in the rain, he would say, “Do not walk so fast, the rain is everywhere.”
—Shunryu Suzuki

For a very long time — too much of my life — I thought conflict was a sign that there was a problem. I didn’t like disagreeing with people about much of anything. I’m using “conflict” in a broad sense: Over resources, points of view, vision, beliefs, tastes.

Over time I shifted on the matter a little, but when I look back on it I realize I wasn’t really evolving my attitude toward conflict, I was just evolving my response to its existence, while still believing that being in a state of conflict is a problem. I just got better at keeping my blood pressure low and gritting through it. I think I was looking at conflict as a thing that you have to acknowledge exists, but that you need to get through as quickly as possible, because it’s a bad place to be.

That attitude created some problems:

  • When you’re bad at being in conflict, you’re at a disadvantage with people who are good at it and mean you harm; and you’re annoying people who are good at it and mean you no harm.
  • When you look at conflict as a thing to grit through and end quickly it’s hard to maintain your integrity. (See above: The people who don’t want what’s best for you (or the business, or the world, or etc.) understand this, and the ones who are really good at it and a little indifferent toward what’s best for you are counting on you to do all the work to get out of conflict.)
  • When you’d rather do anything than admit that you’re in a state of conflict, you will eventually do something about your problem that is less skillful for having waited than if you’d admitted it to yourself (and whoever you’re in conflict with) sooner. Or, as one of my past managers put it to me, “don’t be that guy who hockey-sticks.” (I nodded then kind of hockey-sticked.)
  • When you’re bad at being in conflict, and you’re willing to be set aside your integrity or do other things to get out of it quickly, you’ll eventually get tired of “losing” and figure out ways to “win” that cause others to see you as, at best, baffling and frustrating, and at worst Machiavellian and treacherous.

That, anyhow, is a rough categorization of my many hundreds of mishandlings of conflict. Maybe the most interesting thing to me about all those mishandlings is that over time I managed to convince myself that failing to be in conflict well was a sign of virtue. Moral sophistication. “Taking the high road.” “Not worth the stress.” “Learning how to play the game.” “Protecting the team.”

Over the past few years, I’ve changed on the matter: On balance, I definitely don’t think its existence is a sign there’s a problem. It’s just a sign that there’s a conflict.

I still feel a little cautious about conflict when I don’t know the person I’m in conflict with very well. Caution is useful, because people who are bad at being in conflict but mean well — people who are “good eggs” — can still sort of mess things up, because if I have to bet on whether someone hates “losing” or just grinning and bearing it more, my money is on them hating losing more. When things get to a place where it feels existential to them, even good eggs can act sort of rotten. So you have to take time and attend to the interaction so they can be in conflict and feel safe about it.

I still think I have a responsibility to introduce the existence of conflict with kindness, or receive the news that I’ve entered into a state of conflict in a manner that invites a full airing. “Relaxed and possibly delighted curiosity,” I suppose I’d call it, rather than a furrowing of the brow and assurances that I want to restore harmony at once. Because I don’t want to restore harmony at once. I want to understand why we want different things, then figure out how we can both behave with integrity while we sort that out.

The INT650

I finally quit waffling on what to do with the Royal Enfield Himalayan. I took it up to Sabatino Moto in St. Johns and traded it in for another Royal Enfield: An INT650 (“Interceptor” everywhere else in the world, but not in North America where Honda owns the rights to the name.)

It’s a pretty night and day difference. The Himalayan is a mountain goat, and the INT650 is … something a little prettier and a little less rough. I was never going to ride the Himalayan the way it was meant to be ridden — fire roads, gravel, dirt — and I didn’t have the patience for the very “work in progress” attitude Royal Enfield took toward it. One thing you learn from all the Himalayan videos on YouTube is that the people who love them best don’t mind fiddling, tweaking, and wrenching. After reading hundreds of owners talk about their experiences, I have come to realize I lost the factory QA lottery on mine, and that engendered a lack of confidence in it that I never recovered from.

Also turns out, I think, that I had a bad dealer:

The first RE dealer in the Portland area doesn’t really want to sell them, and it really does not want to do anything other than the most basic service. I think I’ve documented that elsewhere, so I won’t go into it more here, but I’ll just offer the observation that RE’s strategy of linking up with Harley dealers to build out its US distribution network did its customers no favors.

The folks at Sabatino, on the other hand, seem to have a genuine appreciation for the bikes, that extends all the way to acknowledging that RE has some QA challenges. Sabatino addresses that by doing their own QA when they uncrate a new bike. And they’re willing to talk about the ups and downs of each model. My head was briefly turned by another model, and I got a reasoned, balanced, discussion of why maybe that one wouldn’t work for me.

They also offer test rides. I can name one dealership that grudgingly made me sign a waiver and write a check for the full amount to test ride a Grom for five laps around their parking lot, and they only did that because it was a two-year-old model and they’d sold the newer one they promised me out from under me. Sabatino made me do the waiver, share my insurance information, and hand over my license, but then they tossed me the keys and told me they’d see me when they saw me.

Anyhow, the test ride sold me. I’ve been through several configurations of motorcycle and scooter since getting my motorcycle endorsement — maxiscoots, normal scoots, mini-moto, cruiser, trail bike, dual-sport — and none of them have been the thing I first imagined myself riding when I finally decided to learn how to ride. Well, learn how to ride as an adult, anyhow. The twin 650 runs and sounds nice, the bike handles more comfortably than the Himalayan despite there being 40 pounds more of it, and the super-simple analog speedo and tach are just sort of pleasant. I ran it around St. Johns for a while, was struck by how immediately comfortable it was (and how confident I felt on it), and that was that.

Yesterday I took it on a ride out Foster Road toward Damascus. There’s a side road I head out onto that eventually rejoins on the other side of Damascus, close to a back road that joins the highway down to Estacada. So I headed out past Estacada, to see how it did on a small back highway. There was a little bit of buffeting — no fairings — but it ran and handled well. I felt more confident on the little back roads coming back than I did heading out as I got to know the bike better. I did decide to detract from its vintage purity a little by ordering a Dart flyscreen when I got back: People say it helps clean up the turbulence at highway speeds, and keeps the bugs off the pretty silver cans.

Anyhow, glad I’ve got it in the driveway with so much of the riding season left, and I can wholeheartedly recommend Sabatino Moto if you’re looking to buy one for yourself.