Anne Leslie: Slurps, Sulks, and Family History: Do You Care Enough to Argue?



Newsletter #222 — March 24, 2024


On March 17, 2024, one of our colleagues in the Seshat Project, Anne Leslie, posted an article to her LinkedIN newsletter, Fathoming 42, entitled "Slurps, Sulks, and Family History: Do You Care Enough to Argue?"  We loved it, and thought our readers would too, so we asked Anne if we could reprint it here, and she agreed.  Thanks, again, Anne!


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Do You Care Enough to Argue?

by Anne Leslie, CISM CCSP

March 17, 2024

I have come to understand that one of the litmus tests of relationships that last and serve us with their longevity is not the absence of arguments, but rather the quality of the conflict that we are able to have within them.

"Arguing is actually a sign that you're deeply invested in the other person. People don't fight with you if they don't care about you.” - Robert Allan, PhD

It was the first time in my adult life that I was visiting Ireland as a tourist. And I was finally beginning to understand why people rave about the beauty of the wild and verdant countryside. I have to admit that up until that point, I’d been a bit unpatriotically “meh” about my homeland. But for anyone curious, Kerry is well worth a trip and it really is stunningly beautiful. You’d have to be a 15-year-old teenager glued to an iPhone to fail to see that.

True story.

Anyway... One morning while the kiddos were still enjoying the high thread-count luxury of their cosy beds in an unexpectedly lavish bed & breakfast, I was already downstairs tucking into the high-calorie count of the similarly lavish full Irish breakfast that our hosts had laid on.

It had everything that the meat-eating Irish person abroad misses: the inimitable bacon, sausages, and black and white pudding that most of us have, at some stage, surreptitiously and illicitly stuffed as contraband into our luggage after a trip home, back in the days before we could buy it above board at the airport. Along with teabags and Tayto crisps.

Food homesickness is truly a thing. The smells and tastes of where we come from have an incredible power to lift and transport us back in time to places long since left and moments shared with people who may no longer even be of this world.

The other adult I was travelling with wasn’t Irish and I was completely flummoxed, and somewhat saddened, by how unimpressed he was by the spread laid out in front of us.

As he begrudgingly spooned muesli into his mouth – because nothing else on offer was to his fancy -  I couldn’t help but feel inwardly aggrieved that he wasn’t sharing my marvel and somewhat childish joy at being served up these delectable delights that reminded me of lazy weekends back home. The kind of mornings that also smelled of toast and coffee, punctuated by sounds on the radio and where, for a brief and deliciously greasy interlude, nothing was missing and nothing was out of place.

He wasn’t sharing my delight in the moment. Worse in my eyes was how utterly uninterested he was in knowing more about why I thought it was fabulous.

And that’s when the coup de grâce landed.

In what seemed to me to be an act of uncharted boorishness, he picked up his cereal bowl and began slurping the remainder of his annoyingly wholesome muesli and milk out of it.

My mouth fell open, aghast. I dropped my knife and fork onto my plate where they fell with a hollow-sounding ‘chink’. I stared, lost for words.

You see, I grew up in a family where table manners were very much a thing, transmitted generationally via a maternal grandmother who wouldn’t have been out of place in Downton Abbey had she had the endowment to fund her English aristocratic sensibilities and pronounced sense of decorum.

For sure, manners weren’t practiced in my home to the same extent as in my friend Jana’s family where all the children said ‘Thank you very much for a lovely meal, may I please leave the table now?’ when they were done eating.

But still.

There was an implicit understanding in our gaff that table manners are one of the things that separate us from the apes. Essential. Inalienable. Non-negotiable.

This meant that slurping out of cereal bowls in a room full of well-to-do sexagenarian tourists was very much beyond the pale in terms of acceptable behaviour. In my frame of reference, it was irrelevant that we knew none of these people and would never see them again.

“What are you doing?”, I hissed at him.

“What?!”, he replied churlishly, reciprocally irritated by my irritation and defensive in response to the disdain that I imagine was ugly and unpleasantly visible all over my face.

The breakfast table had suddenly become a tinderbox. We were one spark away from a full-blown incendiary incident.

"The only part of an argument that really matters is what we think of the people arguing." - Kim Stanley

It’s in moments like this that relationships - be they intimate, familial, amical, or professional - either get stronger or begin to invisibly come apart at the seams.

One stitch at a time.

One failed bid for connection at a time.

One missed chance for deeper curiosity, compassion, and mutual understanding at a time.

One unresolved argument at a time.

Seeing him sit in front of me and slurp out of a lifted bowl was an affliction to my sense of all that is right and proper. It was a negation of my inherited and learned sense of order, and of the foundational beliefs bestowed upon me by the loved authority figures in my formative years about how 'respectable' people behave.

Was my reaction slightly ridiculous and overtly disproportionate?

Yes. It was.

Particularly given that in the preceding minutes, I had apparently and unwittingly licked egg and mustard off my knife with gusto, which is, without doubt, another reprehensible table manner faux-pas; only this time the culprit was me.

Could I have reacted and responded differently?

Yes. For sure.

But was my reaction totally unwarranted? Or more accurately put, was it totally incomprehensible?

No, I don't think so. And here's why.

We all have our own flavours of crazy, things that make us behave bizarrely and trigger our deepest irrationality. They are generally things that find their origins in our earliest years and in the context of our relationships with our closest caregivers.

None of us are exempt and we hazardously fool ourselves if we think we are.

For me, one of the biggest red flags in a person is the individual who unilaterally self-declares themselves 'easy to live with'.

Nobody is easy to live with. Myself included. And I learned that the hard way.

“Compassion costs. It is easy enough to argue, criticise, and condemn, but redemption is costly, and comfort draws from the deep. Brains can argue, but it takes heart to comfort.” - Samuel Chadwick

In everyday situations like these of which there are so many, the best response for each of us would have been to take a breath, pause, and laugh at ourselves.

Kindly and with compassion.

But that's next-level emotional maturity. While I know the theory, I haven't yet been successful in the mastery of its practice in all the moments when I am deeply triggered, both because my emotional maturity is still a work in progress and also because it takes two to tango.

When the people in our lives annoy us, upset us, and hurt us, the first step towards breaking the deleterious victim-perpetrator cycle is to understand why, in the first instance, we feel wounded. The next step is to find a way to share the why so that it gets heard.

And this is where things get tricky.

Because even if we manage to master step one, there needs to be a willingness in the person on the other side to practice kindness and compassionate curiosity. There needs to be a willingness to entertain our crazy and help us dial it back.

The reason I got excessively mad about the lifted cereal bowl was because I felt slighted by my companion's sullen demeanour at the table that was clouding my sunshine. My anger had risen from the groundwork laid in the preceding moments when he had rebuffed my bid for connection. I wasn’t resentful of his not liking processed pork delicacies so much as I resented his lack of curiosity about why it was meaningful for me.

Like so many other moments in so many other relationships, none of this meta context around our Kerry breakfast ever got discussed or resolved or used as an opportunity to know each other better.

We didn't have an argument. We never even talked about it again.

Instead, we sulked.

The moment passed.

And one more stitch came undone.

I have learned that sometimes daring to engage in conflict is a courageous act of caring.

So friend, the next time you feel like sulking, ask yourself: wouldn't it perhaps be better to have the argument rather than stew in silence, and have it with the mindset of wanting to learn more about the other person's truth instead of wanting to 'win'?

In daring to discuss, you might just find that you are putting an important stitch back in, instead of letting the fabric of the relationship continue to unravel untended.

But for that to happen, everyone involved needs to care more about the long-term outcome than about the short-term discomfort.

And, unfortunately, that's a whole lot easier said than done.


Lead Photo Credit: The Breakfast – Source:,_1911_-_The_breakfast.jpg; Permission: Public Domain; Date Acquired: March 23,2024


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