Conflict Resolution Tip #9: Assume just one thing!
I know you have been taught for years not to make any assumptions. I would like to give you one exception to this rule and I would like you to make this assumption each and every time there is a conflict. “Assume” there is something you don’t know yet and start looking for the rest of the story!
By walking into the conflict making the assumption that there is something you don’t know, you will keep your curiosity up and increase your chances of making a connection with the person on the other side of the conflict. A wise women I once trained with named Janice would say “Get curious, Not furious” and that is exactly what I am suggesting to you.
I was asked recently in one of my workshops what it means to “be the change…” For me, this means that whatever changes you wish existed in the world, you have to live those. For instance, if you want a world where people are patient with each other, you have to be that change by being patient with those you meet. This concept was one of those life changing lessons for me. I think of this concept several times a day usually when I am feeling lazy and need some motivation to be part of the change in things that frustrate me or things I wish would change. Below is a list of just some of the small little things I try to do in the world to make change by being change. I write it down for you so that you might get some ideas about how you can be the change. I am not saying I think you should do anything on the list. I just want you to be aware that someone is doing this. I write it down for me, to see if there isn’t something more I could be doing. I also invite you to add to the list. What is missing from it? What could you put down that is the small changes that help us to be the change we wish to see in the world.
I was hesitant to write this list because I was concerned it would sound like I was telling people what I think they “should” do or that people would think I was just bragging about what I do. I chose to write this list about what I do because that is what I can say. I can’t speak to what others “should” do because I don’t know. I can’t tell anyone what to do, I can tell you what I am doing and why and hope you see the value in these things. I also hope you see that it isn’t that hard to be the change you wish to see in the world.
This list is in no particular order:
1. Avoid plastic bags like the plague. Bring your own bags to shop or ask for paper, not just the grocery store, all stores. Make it a point to just give up plastic bags. They are a destructive little luxury that while they seem to do good in the moment actually are fairly destructive to the world. Each year thousands of birds, fish and wildlife die because of these bags. Landfills are filled with them and they will still be there thousands of years from now. When I bring my own bags to the store, I know others see me doing it. I am hoping that will encourage them to do the same. If you do it, others will see you do it. It could start a very life-enriching trend store owners will hear.
2. When you are finished shopping, be sure to push your cart back to the store or into a designated cart return. I know it is a pain and that it seems pointless when no one else is doing it, but if we want a world where people do this, it has to start with you. I find this hard especially when it is crappy weather. I just know that I would like a world where people show this type of respect for each other. It is sometimes hard to find a spot to park when each spot I find has a cart someone left blocking the way. The carts often roll into other people’s cars and cause damage. I dislike what happens when people don’t push the carts out of the way and put them where they go, so I make it a point to do it.
3. Pick up trash and litter when you see it. I know you didn’t leave it there and it sucks that we have to clean up after people who could have thrown their trash out and didn’t. You would also be surprised how it effects people when they see you picking up the trash. I do know if we want the world to be clean and free of trash on the ground..well…
4. As Gandhi stated: Live simply so others can simply live. You would be surprised how much “stuff” you think you need that you just don’t. I ask myself when I buy things if I really do need this and can I live without it. Not to say I don’t buy stuff I don’t need, I just try my best not to do it. There are 2 things I think about when buying “stuff”. The first is that many of the things we buy will one day end up in a landfill. If I don’t need it then I don’t buy it, it is one less thing to rot in a landfill. The second thing is a bit more extreme and I complete understand if you think I am nuts…I ask myself, can I justify having this luxury when I know so many in the world have nothing? That question really makes you think about the stuff you have and forces you to be grateful that you can have it. In other words, do you really need a TV in the bathroom? Do you really need another gold necklace? Do you really need 8 pairs of jeans when you only really wear 2? You get my point.
5. When walking down the street, I have been trying to make an effort to smile or say “hello” to people that I walk past. Even if I just nod my head and smile. Thich Nhat Hanh says that a smile can be from great joy or the source of great joy. By smiling and saying hi to someone, the good energy and warm vibe may put a smile on their face and by doing this, I can put a smile on my own face because it feels warming to do this.
6. Give up Violence. I know this is a choice most people won’t make and yet, it is one I try to make. When I say give up violence, I mean watching it, supporting it and engaging in it. For starters, I try not to watch television programs that involve murder or violence. So many of today’s programs revolve around story lines of murder and violence and I just don’t watch anymore. I try to feed my soul with positive and life enriching material including the books I read, the movies I watch and the TV I choose to watch. I am pretty sure watching stories about people being murdered, cut down, voted out or humiliated doesn’t fall into the category of life enriching, so while it works for others to watch, I choose to avoid it.
7. Give up bottled water. I have been trying to avoid plastic water bottles especially since many of them don’t get recycled. Don’t laugh, but I bought a refillable water bottle with the quote, “Be the change” written on it when I was in Vermont visiting friends. Since I really like this bottle, it has helped me to stop using bottled water. Even though, in many cases, the bottle water tastes better, I know that over 8 to 10 billion over those bottles end up in landfills each year. This doesn’t even mention the large amounts of crude oil it takes to make and ship these bottles of water.
8. Volunteer! At least once a month I take my mediation skills and give them away for free for a day in small claims court. I get a lot out of this because I know I am helping people and it meets my needs to contribute to others well being. For anything you are good at and anything about which you are passionate, there is a place for you to give that gift to others.
9. I learned my lesson recently and will now make it a rule to follow that I will try not to walk by someone who says they are hungry and need food. I would request that if you are walking down the street and another human being, regardless what they look like or how they are dressed, asks you for food. Please go find it for them. Don’t ask why, just do it.
10. Find the best in people! It isn’t easy to stay in a place where I can see the humanity of those with whom I disagree. It is easy for me to get caught up in the labels and enemy images I have of them. I am aware that doing this is not a quality of the person I want to be or is it something I can do and still live my life according to my values. With that said, I am finding great joy and energy in seeing past all that to see people for more than meets the eye. I do truly believe that the heart of every person has beauty no matter how hard it is to see. For those few people it takes the most energy to see as human, I think lies the greatest pictures we have yet to see. I am finding I have to look past their fears, their anger and the big scary mask they wear to look strong. Under all that lies beauty. I wrote more deeply about this here.
Side Note: This article has taken me days to write. Not so much because I didn’t know what to say but because I wanted to say it in ways that the message I wanted conveyed would come across as positive. I want people to read this and think twice about each move they make and the effect it will have on others. In other words….I am hoping I can influence my readers to look at what they do….every step of the way and rethink those actions that have those ripple effects….oh…did I mention everything has a ripple effect and that is the point. To be the change you wish to see in the world, you might want to choose to take a look at the effects of your actions on the world.
I have been spending a lot of my thoughts and energy lately on building compassion for those who do things or believe things with which I disagree. This is not an easy task and it really involves not allowing myself to loose sight of other people’s humanity. It also means truly focusing on the needs met by other people’s actions especially when I disagree.
Finding this compassion also seems to require me to believe that all humans are basically well intentioned and that is surprisingly not that hard. For starters, psychologists have noted for decades that all human behavior is in the service of meeting human needs. If the intentions of all people are really about getting their needs met, and all of us have the same universal human needs, that would mean that none of us has ever done anything that wasn’t well intentioned. We are all just trying to get our needs met. We just don’t always choose strategies that work with everyone else.
I have been watching the news and reading blogs of people with whom I disagree on strategies to meet their needs. The healthcare bill is a prime example of this. I am in favor of a the strategy of the public option. This “strategy” meets my needs for growth for us as a Country because I believe it helps us value every human life. It also meets my needs for financial security for the Country as I think this is the better move at keeping costs down since our treatments are keeping people alive longer but not without significant costs that are rising as our treatments get more advance, and people need more care. I realize that other people feel anxious and concerned about this strategy because it doesn’t meet their needs for growth or financial security for the Country. Pointing out that our needs are the same. We all want, value and need financial security, we all want growth for the Country and the strategies we choose are not in agreement. Our needs are what connect all of us.
Here’s the CATCH!
When I focus on the needs of other people and NOT the strategies, it is much easier for me to see them as human and find compassion. It is easier for me than labeling them as “greedy” or “insensitive” to the plight of others. I can then acknowledge their humanity while disagreeing with their tactics. I can separate the people from the problem.
I realize I have oversimplified this for the sake of writing this article and that this takes more effort than some may think it is worth. For me, as I can’t speak for anyone else, this is about the person I want to be and the world I want for future generations. I don’t want to see others, regardless what they have done, as a label. Take for instance those who are against same-sex marriage, I don’t want to see a “bigot” because I have grown to believe people are not really “bigots.” I think they are choosing strategies to meet their needs for spirituality that don’t meet my needs for equality. I sometimes struggle to see their needs and get past the name calling that happens in my head, yet that is the person I am working to be. I wish we could find ways to meet both our needs and I have some doubts that will happen. I still don’t want to sink so low that I have to call them names or view them as the enemy. It is those enemy images that block us from seeing others’ humanity. It is also those same enemy images that block them from seeing our humanity.
As I have said, this is a goal I have and I am working to achieve it in my life. To find compassion for even those who I just don’t like. I have learned that we don’t have to like people to connect with them as humans and yet when we can connect with them, humans are beautiful. What’s not to like really?
One of the reasons I stopped writing as much about gay rights is that I realized how radical it is to look for compassion and empathy for people in the pro-family, anti-gay side. (example: Peter LaBarbera, Mary Gallagher, Brian Brown, etc.) I have learned this isn’t always favorable in the eyes of many and I am even looking for compassion for them. Sometimes I can find it and sometimes I can’t get past the fact I believe in the deepest parts of my soul, their tactics of name calling and personal attacks on the other side hurt more than help our goals.
I guess it would be helpful if I explained what I mean by compassion and empathy. First off, it doesn’t mean that I approve of what they are doing. Compassion means I want to understand the “why” behind the actions. What is this about for them? For me, I think it is the easy way out to just call them a bigot or a hater and then call it a day. It is the easy way out to label someone something that detracts from their humanity and it is what they are doing to us? I think it also oversimplifies things. If all behavior is in the service of needs, then their actions meet universal human needs for them. What are those needs and can they be met some other way and at less cost to others?
Even for lesser political things, I want to reach this place of compassion in my life. The guy that cuts me off on the highway could be seen as a maniac, rude, reckless and any other number of labels. With compassion, he might be seen as someone in a rush to see his dying mother before she passing away in the emergency room.
I don’t always agree with the people I meet. The real deal is that most people are not bigots, they are afraid. Calling them names like hater or bigot increases their fear while confronting their fear with compassion may actually calm it. I believe the latter to be more effective.
So, how am I doing this? What is the process?
The first step is to remove the labels we have on people. As long as we are seeing people as bigots, haters, heartless, selfish, greedy, insensitive, cruel or whatever label we have, it is likely we are part of the problem, not the solution. Next we need to connect and empathize with what needs the person was trying meet when they did what they did. Unless we connect and understand those needs, our actions in response are likely to create more violence.
Next, we need to to check back with ourselves. We need to look at our own feelings, our pain in response to what this person (or group) did and what needs of ours were not met. For each enemy image we have of someone, we must empathize with ourselves as to what needs of ours are not met. For example, if we see our boss as “a jerk” and “a control freak” because he requested that all travel requests be approved before reimbursements will be given, it will be unlikely that we will be able to empathize with why he has done this and therefore impossible for us to find other ways for his needs to be met at less cost to us.
Chances are, if we only see the boss as a control freak, we will not address the issues that will then meet our needs. We will instead feed our enemy images and look for other ways to back up our conclusion that he is a control freak. On the other hand, if we are able to check in with our own needs, that travel isn’t always predictable and that pre-approval may not always be possible and that we have a need for financial security and cannot afford to “not” get reimbursed, then perhaps we can explore ways to meet everyone’s needs. After we have done away with the enemy images, then we can explore what needs the boss was trying to meet with his new rule and see if there is another way that need can be met AND still meet our own needs.
For me, this is a personal journey I am taking to be the person I want to be. I can’t say I know what needs are met by Peter LaBarbera with some of his actions. I also can’t say I know what Gov. Donald Carcieri needs were when he vetoed the domestic partner funeral bill. I know the easy way out is to call him a bigot and a hater. It also means my reactions will be from an energy of violence rather than compassion. I don’t want that for myself. I believe we can make change in other ways without using violence either physical or non-physical.
It is unlikely we can make change by convincing those who disagree with us how evil they are. It is unlikely we can influence voters to vote for our rights by convincing them they are bigots and haters. I do believe we can make change by empathizing with the fear in people that is the root of homophobia. We can influence change by trying to help others see that their actions are effecting us in negative ways and explore ways they can get their needs met at less cost to us. This process will work in the quest for equality and it can work in the conflicts in our families, places of employment and even our churches.
One of the reason both Gandhi and MLK were so successful in their nonviolent campaigns was their ability to find compassion for those who were viewed as their adversary. This was also the case for President Ronald Reagan and Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev who somehow found ways to see each others humanity beyond their political differences. They didn’t start this way. They were arch rivals until one day Reagan is said to have turn to Gorbachev after a heated debate and say, “This isn’t working. Can we start over? Hi my name is Ron. Can I call you Mikhail” and they formed a friendship that helped to end the cold war.
I believe this change in view can help us solve many of today’s problems in our families, in our schools, in our workplaces and in our communities. It is written in the Tao Te Ching that if you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. I believe compassion is a better way and we can find it for those with whom we disagree when we change the way we look at them. I know my journey is not for everyone but imagine if everyone took this journey with me. I wonder what we might accomplish. As much as Gandhi? As much as King?
Marshall Rosenberg writes in his book, Speak Peace in a World of Conflict: What you say next could change the world:
“Peace requires something more than revenge or merely turning the other cheek; it requires empathizing with the fears and unmet needs that provide the impetus for people to attack each other. Being aware of these feelings and needs, people lose their desire to attack because they can see the human ignorance leading to these attacks; instead, their goal becomes providing the empathetic connection and education that will enable them to transcend their violence and engage in cooperative relationships.”
I am convinced if we can transform the way we see those with whom we disagree, we can find ways to meet everyone’s needs. As soon as we can get past the labels that declare who is right and who is wrong; the labels that declare who deserves what punishment or reward then I believe we have a chance to make real lasting change. The poet and philosopher Rumi wrote, “Out there beyond the ideas of rightness and wrongness there is a field. I will meet you there.” It is on that field that the solutions to many of the conflicts in our lives stand for the taking.
I also believe that in those cases where it is difficult to make this connection, that at least one party has to make the effort for anything life-enriching to happen. Why not you? This is how we can “be the change we wish to see in the world.”
I was in Philly this past weekend and felt a little shocked by the number of homeless people under the age of thirty I saw on the streets. Most of them asked me for money or if I could spare some change. I have been taught by some of my friends that work with the homeless that it is better not to give them money so that they will seek services instead. I don’t know if that really works and it is what I do.
I did pass this one younger guy while on my way to go find something to eat. I would guess he was in his late 20s. What struck me was that he wasn’t asking the people passing him for money, he was asking for someone to help him get something to eat. I walked by, smiled and then kept on walking. I was a little haunted by how desperate and frustrated he sounded that no one would get him something to eat. While I tried enjoying my Chinese Veggie dish, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact I just walked by him. I also started thinking about the labels and judgments I try to teach others not to use. I realized I was using those labels on him. I saw him as the label of “homeless” and my thoughts of how I would respond were stunted by that label. My thoughts stopped at the label I put on him. I didn’t see him in the moment as a fellow human being, I saw him as the label I placed on him. I felt rather ashamed of myself. While I know I was trying my best to make decisions that I have been told are in his best interest, I don’t think I was on target this time.
So, on the way back to the hotel where the conference was taking place I did my best to try and find him again. I walked back the same way and he wasn’t where he was before when I saw him. I eventually found him a few blocks up and he was still asking folks to help him find some food except this time he was saying it more bluntly. He stating to the passer by’s, “I’m really hungry” and I was overjoyed to have a chance to change that.
The second time I saw this man, I didn’t see the label. I saw a human in need of some food. I looked for the feelings and needs in the person just like I try to teach others to do in my workshops. When I did that I saw someone who was hungry and needing food, someone who was frustrated and needing to be acknowledged for his humanity and someone who was scared about not having the security of a steady meal. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be that hungry and be that invisible to others. This was a lesson for me in practicing what I preach.
I wasn’t going to write about this story because I was concerned people would take it in a way I didn’t intend. It isn’t about whether or not we should or shouldn’t give money to the homeless or buy them food. The reason I share it is that I want you to think about how you see others. Do you seen them as the label you have placed on them or the human underneath those labels? Do you see your own humanity or do you see the labels others have placed on you?
Here is a video from Becky Blanton who spent a year of her life homeless. Really makes you think about how you see someone and instills a sense of curiosity about why they are there and what we could do to help!
This is a great article that points out how the same logic that supports borrowing billions to go to war is ignored when talking about funding universal healthcare. It bugs me that we as a society are okay with going into debt to fund wars but don’t have the same feelings about making sure the poorest or sickest can get healthcare when they are ill. The article points out:
When it comes to putting children’s parents into harm’s way in foreign wars, though, none of those principles apply. I’m not sure if a single conservative who has objected to health care reform on the basis of economic costs or debt has raised any similar objections to paying for wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. This is especially significant because of the relative costs involved — America’s wars in the Middle East don’t just cost far more than even pessimistic estimates of health care reform, but they are likely to cost far more than health care reform is feared to cost over the long term.
It never ceases to amaze me how we can justify somethings with a certain logic but then ignore the same logic to other things…
Conflict Resolution Tip #8: Conflict Resolution is not just some tool you use when you realize there is a conflict. It is a complete shift in thinking.
There are dozens of conflict resolution training books and training packages out there. There is the Thomas Kilmann Conflict materials, the Vitalsmarts materials, the work of Dan Dana who calls himself the “conflict doctor” and holds his workshops on cruise ships and of course there is Nonviolent Communication, which is where I base my workshops. Some of these approaches focus on communication in conflict while others focus on workplace policy or leadership skills. All of these approaches have one thing in common, they try to help you shift your thinking about and your behavior in response to conflict. All of these also acknowledge one thing, in order to be a master at conflict resolution, you have to change your thinking about people.
There really is no workshop, book, video or even a cruise that is going to make you a pro at dealing with conflict either at work or in your family unless you are willing to make the shift in your consciousness about how you see other people during a conflict. All of these programs plants seeds in you that work to help you make change in yourself and your approach, dealings and management of conflict.
So here is the tip, if you want your workplace, family or community to deal better with conflict, avoid focusing on learning quick fixes and small little workshops designed to put band-aids on communication or policy. If you want to bring better conflict resolution skills to your workplace, business, family, school, or even the community where you live, you have to work on shifting people’s thinking so they will begin to see the benefits of the tools you want them to learn. It also helps to shift the environment to one that welcomes conflict as something to bond people together rather than divide them apart.
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"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Martin Luther King Jr.
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