This past week at a Harvard Business School event, I told the nice man next to me that I study, "Conflict Analysis and Resolution."
He asked, "What's the secret to solving conflicts?"
"Let it go", I said.
"What do you mean?" He responded.
I explained, that if you can drop the whole thing, do so. Most conflicts aren't worth the fight. They are very seductive and can become addictive. The stories we develop around the conflict and our position as victim can bring all kinds of attention, but ultimately keep us stuck.
For example, you could spend today thinking about how right you are about that person or that moment in time. Or, you could get out a piece a paper and start writing down what really matters to you and how you plan to accomplish it.
Below are the three questions he sent me the next day and the answers I sent him.
Question 1: How to Let it go?
1) Recognize that you are complaining
2) Decide to a) stop b) refocus on articulating clearly in your mind what you DO want. c) then focus exclusively on what you DO want
Question 2: Why are people not able to Let it go?
People hold on to problems for various reasons. It's often a mix of the following
1) Significance- it makes them feel important to have this problem.
2) The benefit of seeing oneself as a victim is that you don't have to be part of articulating the solution
3) Master narratives- If you are surrounded by people telling the same story of victimization (or complaint) you don't recognize it as a story. You assume that it is TRUE. It feels normal to talk about it.. (i.e. people complaining about snow...which actually is quite beautiful)
4) People like to connect on problems. It's how they form group identity. A friend was telling me about a "divorced women's group" where the women sit around and complain about their lot in life. Sounds terrible. People confuse pity parties with closeness.
In larger more global conflicts, people derive all kinds of identity and meaning out of associating with various groups that are against this or against that.
They print up t-shirts, make facebook pages, and organize workshops. Not all of this is waste...movements helped us upend segregation and extend voting rights to women.
But those are the BIG ones. I suggest considering how much of your daily stewing is about large global injustices and how much is relatively petty (i.e. how cold it is in the winter)
10% on global justice and 90% on the comparatively petty?
Question 3: How to help others Let It Go?
Honestly, the best is to focus on the self for awhile and THEN, eventually, you start helping people imagine different possibilities for themselves.
The best you can do is not to fuel the drama that others bring to you. Acknowledge to yourself that they are trapped in a story. Eventually help them write new story lines for themselves. If that sounds too tricky, then just help them feel better. When people feel better they tend to drop the drama.
But first, just focus on yourself. Otherwise you're just focused on what is wrong with them...and you have to go back to step 1.
Overall, I'd have to say this time Disney got it right...Let it Go... 'cause the cold never bothered me anyway...
How do you get your information about health?
From the newspaper? The doctor? Marie Claire? Word-of-mouth? Billboards? Advertising?
Have you considered the origins of the information?
For four years, I managed an Integrative Medicine Resource Center at California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) in Pacific Heights, San Francisco.
In this Center, we would help people understand their diagnoses, the doctor's recommended therapeutic approach as well as all of the other alternative/complimentary approaches available to them.
In this way, people were invited to explore the variety of modalities existing on the planet today. Some approaches grew out of 5,000 year old traditions whereas others were on the cutting edge of medical science.
Through this Center we tried to mitigate the impact of the the dominant narratives in health care, those that promote a very thin, single dimension approach.
This photo is of Master Ko Wong. He helped me with my legs, my friend Anna (name changed) with a debilitating arm and back condition, her future husband with Leukemia, Gina with PTSD from Vietnam, and my landlady with breast cancer. Not every one was "saved" but those who were have gone on to live better, healthier lives.
He would have us laugh for 20 minutes, dance around the room with our eyes closed, lay on the floor...you'd be amazed, for example what lying on the floor for 30 minutes a day can do to your life. People cured all kinds of things with this move.
Of course, no one really makes any money off of you lying on the floor so you won't see it publicized.
Did you also know that you have a new liver every 6 weeks? That fasting can help you rebuild yours? Of course do this with supervision.. ( I say this after many failed attempts) But, as no one makes money off of you eating nothing, so you hear less about this approach.
I'm not saying all Western Medicine is a racket. When I sliced my eye trying to put on my contact lens, I called the head of the Center who happened to have been a respected ophthalmologist. He sent me to a doc who put a magical drop in my eye and I could see again. So, I'm a fan.
My message here is this...I spent four years helping people understand that the way they wanted to treat their aliment may have had more to do with the paradigm in which they were raised than what their body/mind actually needed.
Sometimes I felt people seemed deflated to hear that their problem could be caused by something simple like Golden-seal tea. Did simplicity somehow challenge the significance of their problem or in some way trivialize their suffering.
Did you know that Johnson & Johnson added the "sting" back into some of it's solutions because people didn't believe the antiseptic was working if it did not hurt? (true! look it up)
Do we somehow believe that pills or pain is required for healing? Does this make us feel tough or important?
Then you figure, would I rather feel tough trying to cure nausea or taking on something bigger like our nation's problem with obesity. I'm just saying..pick your problems. Upgrade to ones that contribute more.
Back to your health. if you're getting your latest breaking health info from Good Morning America, I say you're getting the tail end. They do a pretty good job, but San Francisco knew about all this 15 or 20 years ago. Chinese Medicine? Well, thousands of years, maybe.
(Ok, one small caveat here...they do sometimes report on advances in medical technology that are relevant and meaningful, like the new walking suits for paraplegics)
And since when you're in distress you want solutions immediately, I wouldn't wait the 20 or 2,000 years for the info to get to your morning news program.
Stories about milk, protein, grain...are all mostly sponsored by those industries. It's not the latest advice...Claritan is happy for you to keep drinking milk too. Then you get to keep the allergies that keep you buying their nose spray.
Through Chiropractic, acupuncture, meditation, nutrition and many others...I have gotten off any/all pharmaceuticals. YAs you may know, however, these practitioners make less than pharmaceutical companies, so you don't see their adds on TV.
This doesn't mean they are not as effective. So here's the trick for you...finding the solution that your body needs not the one that lands across your eyeballs. I've been in advertising for over 10 years, I know how these messages get there...it's not chance.
If you're looking for a counter-narrative to today's health information and you're suspect, start with Dr. Andrew Weil. He's a Harvard Trained doc and will explain the biochemistry of nutrition. There are many other good ones: John Kabat Zinn, Dean Ornish, Candace Pert, Christine Northrup...once you find one you'll find the others...
Oh and if you DO need prescription medication check out the 60 Minutes program on pharmacies. You want to go to Costco (open to you even if you are not a member). CVS has been known to add more than $400 surcharge on their prescriptions. Just sayin'
During my first dog mushing experience, the musher barely had to whisper gee (for left) or haw (for right) and the dogs all the way up at the front would respond.
This is a speech act at its most basic level. It is a directive.
There are many speech acts that so transform our cultural space that to try to understand conflict without them is like trying to cook without a spoon.
While I was first intellectually introduced to these concepts by the brilliant
philosopher and psychologist, Rom Harré the power of his words became most apparent to me this month in the mountains of Northern CA.
I was in a small town an hour or so east of San Francisco to give a sermon at a small church in a little railroad town of 900 (more on the sermon later). I was staying with my friend, the Pastor, who is also a hospice chaplain.
During the weekend with her, her partner, and their friends, two powerful stories emerged that demonstrating to me why speech acts matter, impacting how we story and operate within the world in which we find ourselves.
Story 1: Death Is Coming
My friend, the hospice Chaplain works with a variety of families in the area. Her work includes not only speaking with those knocking on death's door, but also often with the families. Because of her experience working at a bereavement camp (where we met), she has now been asked to work with more of the children in the area and children of those in hospice care. She now finds herself called upon to be in the room when the kids are first formally told, "Your father (mother,sibling,etc) is going to die."
My friend said the child, especially if they are pre-teen or older often already knows, but there is something powerful in hearing the words "Your mother will die." In fact, we now know these words are so powerful, unless the person is like 95% gone, you really cannot tell them. Patients tend to follow doctors' orders. If you say I will die in X months, then I'll do it.
On the other hand, there seems to be power in coming clean about death when you do know or when the patient plans to die. Even if everyone knows the person is dying, the speech act to the members of the family is important and powerful. People can react in any number of ways, she told me.
These words change the world in which we find ourself.
I wondered, is the moment after hearing these words really different than the moment before? Materially, no, but life will never be the same.
The speech act has power. It can put us on an entirely different stage.
Story 2: We're Getting Married
Her friends told a story that demonstrated in a totally different context the power of the speech act. These two women had been living together for over 30 years, but could not legally marry until the laws changed in California. As soon as they changed, they married. The nephews of one of the women was in seminary at the time of wedding and refused to attend. He did not support their homosexual relationship.
She said to him something to the effect,"You have known us your entire life. Why do you all of a sudden have a problem with us now?"
He said something like, "Well, I didn't realize you were a couple"
Her response, "we have been living together for over 30 years, moved together multiple times. What did you think was going on?"
He said, "Well, it wasn't until you said you were getting married that it became real."
Here again, we see the power of the speech act. Life was going along and no one paid any mind until the words were uttered or wanted to be uttered in this formal way. 'I want to marry X' and all of a sudden a happy couple of 30+ years and their relationship with their nephew is now on the rocks.
How is it that a handful of words that effectively change nothing in our day-to-day can upend our sense the world and our place in it?
I am sure many wise people have written on this and I apologize for not taking the time now to look for them for you (perhaps later). But I suspect it is because language evokes cultural rules and norms, standards of behavior. Without the words it's just working, eating, sleeping, etc. and other animal behavior. When we declare something we distinguish ourselves from the animal kingdom and cipher off what is good from what is evil...at least in our minds.
Centuries of moral codes are evoked when you say marriage or endless religious liturgy or medical realities when one says death...
Here we find that suspended moment that made me fall in love with narrative...that beautiful moment between something happening and what we make it mean. Before the speech act gives it 50 tons of meaning..we are just hanging with things how they are and how they are not.
The nephew was ok before the marriage declaration and the child maybe fine (or as fine as one can be) with the dying status of the parent, but the act brings so much more. I'm not saying the declaration should not happen in either case, many new narrative spaces open up when we can actually speak openly about death, marriage , or love that perhaps cannot be uttered before the speech act is uttered.
So all you conflict resolvers out there (and that's anyone reading this), I'm just suggesting what Harré suggested to us... pay attention to these little acts around you. How do they make you feel? What can now be said because the words have been declared? What feels different?
Just something to think about....
Some of what we find replusive does not change over time. The UPENN psychology department offered a great non-credited course on "What Makes Something Gross"..In this course, we learned that things that we find disease-carrying beings and things like rats, saliva, mucous, feces gross to save our lives.
We are supposed to be repelled.
Stay away or pay the price.
These things have been gross to us, probably since man first picked up a rock and thew it at a rat eating his dinner.
I have noticed, however, behaviors we consider repulsive seem to evolve over time. They are less static and and are culturally dependent.
For example, I hope that everyone now finds the concept of slavery repulsive. Most members of our society have ruled out incest, abuse, and pillory. Though, genital mutilation and sex slavery among other practices still exists in the world.
I had a terrific professor in Paris who studies discrimination. He had us read early Supreme Court decisions from the 1950s which justified segregation. Beautifully written and beautifully reasoned decisions that were totally morally wrong. They argued it would be safer for everyone if we just kept buses, pools, and schools separate. It was mind baffling to think the brightest brains in the U.S. could be so misguided.
I asked the professor "Well, what are we doing right now that we will be totally repulsed by in 50 years"?
We decided it would be factory farming.
We will be totally disgusted with this idea of forcing animals into pens where they cannot move. Forks and Knives, Supersize Me, and others have raised awareness about these practices. We now have Cage Free eggs, happier beef, and maybe even giddy pigs.
I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years...It started because I loved animals and didn't like hurting anything. Now, I'm more okay with people using animals for food. But like Nicolas Kristof who wrote in A Farm Boy Reflects , it's the practices that bother me.
Perhaps increasingly so as I study genocide. I just cannot stomach violence the same way. In fact, on the plane they were showing a cooking show on how to make meatballs. To me it looked like human calf muscles.
Not that we're trying to kill an entire species, but after watching video after video of Jews being forced like cows into lines, into cattle cars and then into death chambers, I can't help but see the comparisons. Of course the intention is quite different; cows are at least seen to have value...well and we're not trying to kill all of them.
I hope we can turn this factory farming practice around.
It would be great if we could find better ways of treating our animals just because it seems like any move to reduce suffering on the planet is worthwhile.
I find the current Vegan Campaign in the DC area a bit silly. For example you have a chicken on the side of a bus saying "I need my wings more than you do. " This totally misses the point that the only reason they exist is that we raised them TO eat them. That chicken wouldn't be alive if he were not working for Purdue. The campaign doesn't make vegans look so smart. That's too bad.
. Where is Upton Sinclair..someone needs to write another version of The Jungle? Now that would be "Some Pig"!
As this blog is named "Language of Conflict", I wanted to return to a language-related debate.
Some of you may be aware of the new term, "Slacktivisim" ( slacker and activist combined) this word has come to mean supporting a cause passively (through,say "likes" on Facebook) rather than donating money or time to a cause.
The practice has come under criticism, especially from UNICEF. Olga Khazan wrote a great article in The Atlantic about UNICEF's battle against this form of activism. They created an ad campaign saying that clicking "like" doesn't save lives, money does.
But Georgetown University's Center for Social Impact Communication did a study and found that social media activists, actually volunteer more, encourage others to contact representatives more and are as likely to donate money as non social media supporters.
All this time studying coaching, narrative intervention, and conflict resolution I've also learned a thing or two about identity. (A quick plug here-- George Mason's School of Conflict Resolution and Analysis has some incredible scholars working on identity)
Once people pick an identity, they will work really really hard to maintain it. For example, if I see myself as a very fit athlete, eventually I will find myself back in the gym. Because I'm a fit person; fit people are fit. If someone sees themselves as popular, they will find a way to be popular in any circumstance. The same is true for being poor, powerful, kind, etc. We want to feel consistent with who we say we are. (Tony Robbins has some great material on this)
Anyway, for this reason, I think "slacktivism" is great and I hope Georgetown does another study that looks at this issue over time. I bet over time slacker folks will start contributing if asked nicely. The more they click "like" they more they are likely to to see themselves as someone who cares about causes. They more they see themselves as someone who cares, the more likely they are to act on that. So I think UNICEF was a bit harsh, they could have gently trained these potential contributors versus shaming them. But maybe it worked. We would have to ask UNICEF.
So, I say if you like a cause, click "like"...soon you will see yourself as someone who cares and who knows, maybe you'll become a mega-contributor one day.
It all starts with caring.