On screenplays

The compulsion to resolve conflict with others through dialogue is natural and good.

But some forms of conflict arise precisely from an incapacity for dialogue.

The problem might be the fault of one party or another, or both, or even neither. The problem might be specific to the relationship, a peculiarity of the chemistry of two misfitted personalities, and not attributable to any conspicuous shortcomings of anyone. The conflicting factors might be distributed between the conflicting parties and deeply engrained in the history and habits of the relationship, out of the direct control of either side, and in certain circumstances difficult or impossible to effectively address.

In these cases, attempts to resolve the conflict are unlikely to succeed, and are more likely to create even more conflict and more need for resolution.

And that is actually fine.

These reconciliations are not emergencies, and when they seem to be, things might not be as they seem so self-evidently to be.


Sometimes our urgent need to resolve things with another person is not actually for the sake of the relationship at all — but, in fact, for the sake of restoring our own self-image, damaged by contact with real otherness. We are not trying to heal the relationship, or even heal ourselves, but rather to heal an image of ourselves, our morality, our sense of omniscience, our artistic vision of life.

If we manage to mature as people, sometimes life shows us that our efforts to reconcile — sincere efforts, too! — were really just attempts to persuade the other person to stop being so other, and instead to submit to performing the role of the person we need them to be. — All this so we can return to the comfortable self-satisfaction of playing our role in our movie.

Or, more accurately, our roles, plural.

We forget how many roles involved in creating movies are not acting roles.

In our own movie we are not only the star actor — we are also scriptwriter, producer, director, and editor. We may also be promoter, red carpet gala and paparazzi. Some of the more eggheaded of us are also film critic. All of us are audience.

Depending on who we are, we may root our selfhood in any of these roles, and what is at stake in many conflicts is not the on-screen drama but the off-screen creative differences.

The worst of these creative conflicts are those where one or both artists refuse to allow the other to be anything but a moving image on their screen. The real stakes are not the colorful shadows thrown on the screen, or even in the bright bulbs of the projector, but up out in the sunlight of reality, out in the source of these projected visions and self-contained realities, overlapping, clashing divine sparks — the jewels-within-jewels, jewels-within-nets, nets-within-jewels of Indra’s Net.

We may live our whole lives and die without ever catching ourselves in the act of relegating others to the confines of our screens. If so, we will have been one of the blessed ignoramuses who were right all along. Most of us fail to ever notice that we are not God.

Relationships are less like movies and more like improv. Each actor has a tentative vision of what is going on, but also intuits and responds to what other actors are doing and envisioning and intuiting, and the action transcends them all, while being immanent in each of them and all of them.

Only here, in the sunlight of improv, is reconciliation possible.

Reconciliation is not scripted, not directed, not produced. And despite popular wisdom, forgiveness is not a matter of editing or rewriting a script.

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