This expression was apparently coined by Joseph Joubert (1754-1824) who was a French moralist and essayist, remembered today largely for his Pensées (Thoughts), which was published posthumously. Apparently, “Joubert published nothing during his lifetime, but he wrote a copious amount of letters and filled sheets of paper and small notebooks with thoughts about the nature of human existence, literature, and other topics, in a poignant, often aphoristic style. After his death his widow entrusted Chateaubriand with these notes, and in 1838, he published a selection entitled, Recueil des pensées de M. Joubert (Collected Thoughts of Mr. Joubert).”
So, what does this phrase – never cut what you can untie – mean? In a series of answers that ask that question online answers range from comparing the expression to “don’t burn your bridges” or “don’t kill a fly with an atom bomb”. One explanation was “if you untie something you can tie it again, but not if it’s cut”.
When I thought about it, I considered all explanations above to be applicable to conflict. I am going to focus on the last one because that visual was strongest for me. I compared the “tie” to the lace of a shoe – representing the tie between another person and myself. If we then engage in accusations and blame we risk severing the tie, the shoe does not fit well then and we become uncomfortable. We may trip over the broken lace. On the other hand, if we untie what is happening between us – by listening and sharing and trying to understand one another – our tie has a better chance of staying intact – keeping the lace strong and our footing solid.
If this analogy resonates for you, here are some ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) to help you reflect on a tie between you and another person that is being challenged due to a conflict.
How would you describe the tie between you and the other person?
What is especially important to you about the relationship with her or him?
What happened that you ended up in conflict? What is the conflict about?
How did you contribute to the conflict? How did the other person?
What seems to be cutting into the relationship regarding the conflict between you?
How might you stop the cut?
How might you untie things – rather than cut them – to better understand and reconcile your differences?
What do you need from the other person to keep the relationship intact?
What may the other person need from you?
How will you ultimately tie up things regarding this conflict so that you both will be comfortable and supported?
What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?