Editor’s Note: We have made it our policy to steer clear of politics or any issue that might be seen as exclusive or divisive for our readers. At a time when we seek our balance – as we are confronted with feelings that normally fit outside our boundaries of normal and acceptable – we are pleased to offer this article from Conflict Coach, Deborah Denson. Personally, I have searched for some thought or for some mantra that resonates with me. I have searched for something that speaks to my values in a way that I might find peace instead of anger, as I have faced opinions and beliefs that are in direct opposition to my own. Today my search has come to an end. Deborah suggests that behind our anger hides our fear and that fear may be the most direct path to our passion. Therefore, may we hope for alchemy; for our anger may hold within it something more precious than gold – our passion. Within our passion, as women especially, we will find our common ground. Robin Keyser
MANAGING POLITICAL ANGST
The current political landscape is putting my conflict management skills to the test, and I struggle almost daily to practice what I preach. It is hard as hell to keep myself in line when I hear so much that bumps up against everything that I believe in. I have a friend who engaged in a conversation with someone and “took an AK47 to a knife fight.” I had to laugh, because I get it. I get it intimately. It’s like knowing how to ride a bike and having to pedal up hill on the whole trip.
So what can I do when my heart pounds in my chest and I start sweating under my arms and I really, really want my way???
I have to first navigate my inner conflict. Remember my “itty bitty shitty committee”? Well they kick into high gear when I hear people suggest solutions that seem catastrophic to me. The words that want to spew from my mouth tempt me with their sweetness, but experience shows me they leave such a bitter taste. And more than that, my message is lost in the backlash.
So if I want to engage in a reasonable and responsible way, I must pause and listen. Tune in to the passionate, angry and judgmental voices, and see what they have to tell me.
Usually underneath the anger is fear. There is always something under the anger, because it is a secondary emotion, and if I don’t dive in, then I just get the bitter aftertaste. My fear is that people are going to continue to get hurt, and if I’m not part of the solution, then I am part of the problem. I fear our country will lead with aggression instead of compassion, with a stiff arm rather than a handshake, and with narcissistic “We are better than you” rather than “We are all in this together.” I am afraid that if things don’t go my way, we are doomed. That’s a pretty big fear to carry around, and I can imagine that the fear of those on the other side of the political spectrum holds just as much weight for them.
And that fear is the roadmap to my passion. I am passionately loyal to my friends. I am passionate about women having cost effective access to healthcare after divorce. And I am passionate about personal responsibility. I am fiercely passionate, and I like that about myself. I do not want to dampen my passions one bit… and when I get to this truth, I know I don’t want to dampen yours either.
What is true is that we all are trying to get our needs met, and needs never conflict. I am talking about physiological needs like food and safety and psychological needs like belonging, to matter and be heard. We all share these needs.
Conflict happens at the level of strategies- the things I choose to do to get my needs met versus the things you choose to do to get your needs met.
Your choice to arm yourself as a way to feel safe is quite different than my desire for gun control legislation as a way to feel safe. There are indeed two sides to every story, and we could argue content all day long. You tell me a story of a police officer that was shot, and I tell you a story of a black man that was shot. You tell me a story about a Mexican who robbed houses while working illegally, and I tell you a story about a Mexican who works tirelessly teaching Nonviolent Communication. Arguing content gets us nowhere. Sharing, however, about our mutual need for safety and security puts us on common ground.
I recently met with a young man who happens to be the Director of the Islamic Center in my neighborhood. He grew up in my city and has one child in a local college and one in a local High School. He feels the fear for his children when Homeland Security comes to their school for interviews. He feels the tension when our community blocks the building of a mosque. He feels the tension knowing that so many believe all Muslims are extremists and terrorists. This could not be farther from the truth, and when I see his hurt and fear alongside his tireless compassion, I feel inspired.
I asked him how he combats this False Evidence Appearing Real (a valuable acronym for fear), and he said, “one person at a time. I invite them to our church and to have a meal with us.”
He knows that connection is the answer. And sometimes staying connected means I get an opportunity to bite my tongue. We are dealing with complex people issues that have no easy solution and will not be solved in a four year term, so in the end, maybe simply connecting is the answer.
Connect and love each other better, one person at a time.
Deborah Denson is a Mediator and Conflict Coach in Nashville, TN. She shares her personal journey learning to manage conflict and life in general on her blog, where she combines original art and wit into a daily dose of insight and humor for readers.