February 23, 2020
“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict… ― Dorothy Thompson (1893-1961) American journalist
“Oh, how I hate conflict,” I once complained to my husband. His reply, “Are you kidding me? You thrive on conflict.” We were both sort of right and both sort of wrong. What I hate is the physical discomfort that usually accompanies conflict. What I love is the possibilities that can surface during times of conflict. The key is to move beyond right and wrong, with resolution as the goal and the desired outcome for the highest good of all. Here’s an example.
Many years ago I was a member of a women’s gym where I worked out and took classes. The monthly dues of $25 were automatically paid through my credit card. I needed an extended leave for travel and physical ailments, so my credit card was not billed for three months.
Three months went by and I forgot about it. For whatever reason, my husband paid my credit card bill for a few months. When my credit card statement was back in my in-box to pay, I noticed I had been charged the monthly fee at the gym, and had been while he was paying my bill. I was out a total of $100. That seemed outrageous to me. So, with a calm and hopeful attitude, I phoned the gym. My hope was that they would apologize and reimburse me since I no longer wished to be at that gym. That’s not what happened.
The staff member at the gym was adamant that I indeed owed that $100, per the agreement that I would let them know after the three-month respite if I wished to continue or not. “I forgot” got me nowhere, as did saying someone else paid my credit part bill for a few months after the hold. I could feel the heat rising in my body. I could hear the irritation in her voice. We were both hell bent on being right.
Before everything blew up, I felt a sudden calmness come over me. I remembered the words from a workshop I had taken years earlier: Am I committed to being right, or am I committed to resolution? Some how I managed to say, “I’m wondering how we might resolve this in a way that we’ll both feel good about it when we hang up.” In that moment I had the gym woman in the palm of my hand, because my hand is connected to my arms and my heart. My mind wanted a fight. My heart wanted peace. My body wanted the discomfort to pass.
“How about this,” she said. “We’ll reimburse you half and call it even.” That sounded to me like a great resolution. “Thank you,” I said. “Now let’s both get on with having a great day.” She agreed.
I think about the conflict in our country and wonder if we can apply the same reasoning. Am I committed to being right, or am I committed to resolution? When I’m confronted by someone with politics different from mine, and if I choose to engage with them, am I doing so to prove me right and make them wrong, or am I committed to resolution. Here’s an example.
During the presidential debates the summer of 2016, I had a conversation with a relative who sees himself as a patriot—in what I would call the extreme. He could not talk about President Obama without fuming. The hate was palpable. In the past I would have argued until we were both blue in the face. But this time was different. I really wanted to hear what he had to say about Obama.
“He was not born in the U.S., he wants Islamic Sharia Law, and he just fired 60 cabinet members and generals and replaced them with Muslims.” He spewed this out in one long breath. After a brief pause, I looked at him with a soft expression on my face, and said, “I don’t believe that.”
The difference? In the past I would have said “I don’t believe YOU.” Those are fighting words for us! This time I took it out of the personal and replied impersonally. He suggested I look it up, which I did when I got home. He was totally wrong. (I won’t even address the birther and sharia law stuff.) What I learned was, that Obama only replaced one cabinet member with a Muslim. It was tempting to phone family member and do what we did as kids when one was right and the other wrong. “Nee ner, nee ner, neeee ner.”
So, I ask you, my anam cara, when in conflict, are you committed to being right, or committed to resolution?