Recently, at a poetry reading, I was fascinated to learn that the worst way to get rid of a coyote is to kill the thing: because coyotes are intensely territorial, killing one inevitably results in coyotes— plural— arriving to claim the dead guy’s territory. Like Hydra’s head, chop one off and several grow back.
The other morning I was listening to a client complain about a friend’s litany of unkind behaviors. The client described the friend, “all smiles,” asking a really embarrassing and personal question in front of a number of other people. I was about to suggest a gentle confrontation in response to this little piece of nastiness when the coyote story slunk into my head…
I shared the story with my client, who laughed knowingly, “Lately my friend has been acting like a wild animal.” We discussed what a confrontation with this “smiling, snarling” character might look like: “Ugly,” my client concluded, noting the friend is involved in a painful, shame-inducing family drama. We talked about pain, and how often it shows up under the umbrella of anger (along with a welter of other, negative feelings). My friend rejected the idea of confronting this friend, noting the friend was in a bad place and by bullying my client had raised some old, terrible hurts, leaving my client with heightened sensitivity to pain.
So no big showdown, but my client and I decided to use this opportunity to figure out some healthy communication tricks.
We considered interpersonal communication factors like tone, setting, and timing. We reviewed self-communication factors, like unhelpful, stuck patterns of thought. We joked about scripting silly responses to barbed comments (Speak up! I’ve got a head cold!… Let me pray on that, and I’ll get back to you.). Finally, my client formulated a goal for responding to others’ “twisted sh–… “I just want to see it for what it is, recognize that it can’t hurt me unless I let it, and lovingly ignore it.” Pretty much what the poet suggested we do when faced with a coyote.