One of my favorite books is The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute. Here are a few lines from the preface:
Conflict is ubiquitous . . . The trouble is, not nearly enough people understand what to do about it . . . Why does there remain so much confusion [about conflict resolution] when there is so much need? The reason is that in conflict, as in magic, the real action occurs where people are not looking. For example, we assume that people in conflict want solutions. However, this is only partially true. Parents of belligerent children do want the belligerence to end, those who work for tyrannical managers want an end to the tyranny, and citizens of weakened nations certainly want to be treated with respect. Notice, however, that parties in conflict all wait on the same solution: they wait for the other party to change. Should we be surprised, then, when conflicts linger and problems remain?
I think it is a gross generalization to categorically state that all parties in conflict wait for others to change. There are people who willingly look to themselves first as a source for solutions rather than waiting for others to do so. However, I do believe that these people are the minority – as evidenced by current conflicts throughout the world.
The authors go on to describe what they feel is the source, the origin of conflict. They describe that when our hearts are at peace with people and circumstances around us we are willing to look at the world from their perspective and try to understand why they believe and behave as they do. By seeking to understand others, we are more able to see them as valid human beings with thoughts and feelings and value much like we view ourselves. This creates a cascade of positive outcomes.
Here is one positive outcome to consider. Everyone has a bad day. A day when we are spread too thin, where we feel stretched beyond our capacity, and our coping skills are depleted. And then comes the straw, the proverbial straw . . . It may be someone cutting in front of us in line. It could be someone whose political views chafe with our own. It may be an energetic child. Whatever it is, that straw settles upon our back and we lash out at whoever has provoked us. The recipient of our frustration will most likely respond in kind (odds are good that s/he is struggling with something as well).
But what if they responded with patience and kindness? They might say, “Wow, your child is energetic! Do they play any sports? They’d be great in soccer.” Or they could respond, “Oh dear, it seems my politics have upset you. I’d like to understand what is important to you. Can you help me understand your thinking on the matter?” And with respect to the line cutting, they may just choose not to worry about it.
I believe that when we treat others with kindness rather than with judgment, they tend to treat us similarly. This begins of cycle of positive interactions that trend toward our hearts softening towards one another and a greater feeling of mutual respect and unity among us. To use the vernacular of the aforementioned authors, our hearts are now at peace rather than being at war.
As a Christian, I place special emphasis on the teachings of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. He taught us about motes (small specks of dust) and beams and the importance of removing the beams from our own eyes before attempting to remove the motes from the eyes of those around us.
And there are others who have promoted peace throughout the ages. Essential teachings of the Buddha were of love, compassion, and tolerance. Compassion for all living things is especially important in Buddhism. The Dalai Lama said, “I feel that the essence of spiritual practice is your attitude toward others. When you have a pure, sincere motivation, then you have right attitude toward others based on kindness, compassion, love and respect.”
Mahatma Ghandi taught, “When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won.” He spent his life striving for peaceful solutions and shunned violence. For him, peace was an overriding theme and he discontinued several efforts at independence and liberty because the process became violent.
During this Christmas season and throughout the coming year, I invite us to consider having a “heart at peace” towards all around us. May we seek to see the good and the good intentions in others and build upon those things that bring a feeling of unity and love.