There is a holocaust happening now in Syria.
Another mad man is slaughtering a people fighting for their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Will we humans ever learn to resolve deep conflicts without murdering each other?
I believe, in light of current events, it is a good time to revisit a topic I have previously addressed relative to our own country's quest for those same basic human rights.
In 1776 our second President, John Adams, encouraged us to celebrate in high spirits our July 4th Declaration of Independence from Britain on every 4th of July thereafter. That world changing Declaration, however, also formalized the beginning of our military war for independence as well as our political and philosophical conflict with an oppressive monarchy. Engaging in the killing of other human beings to resolve political power issues has forever been the unfortunate and destructive choice of our species.
Today, we continue to live in a world stained with the blood of killing as a method of conflict resolution not only in Syria but also as a result of the protests and demands for freedom in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, in the wars still continuing in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflicts in the Middle East. We remain horrified witnesses to conflict's heinously violent attempts at resolution.
In my view, the remedy and antidote to violence and the ability to peacefully and productively resolve conflict lies within the capability of each of us. Although on a much smaller more individual scale, every day most of us are aware that we experience conflict personally: within ourselves, within our families, on our jobs and in our communities. Fortunately, however, we are learning to identify less dangerous and more productive means for resolving discord.
According to authors Arnold Mindell, Thomas Crum and Danan Parry, the good news is that we could effect change globally by learning to process our personal conflicts appropriately. Then, our inner calm, trust, open-mindedness and generosity could become institutionalized peace.
In "The Leader as Martial Artist," Mindell says conflict is normal, not negative, "a chance for personal growth, excitement, a 'meeting with the gods,' a place for discovering the awesomeness of personal life."
So, how do we learn to resolve conflict in order to grow personally and keep peace with others? One good way to begin might be to read the work of the authors mentioned above. Here are some of their suggestions:
Don't repress or avoid conflict. Acknowledge it, honor it, allow it to be expressed.
Stop thinking of conflict as a contest where there is a winner and a loser, when someone ends up being "right" or "wrong." Conflict is an opportunity for people to express their feelings so that a situation can be made better for everyone.
Verbalize your hopes, your goals and your motivation for resolving the conflict. Be honest, direct and specific. A very simple example might be "Every time we decide to go to a movie together we end up fighting. I'd like us to find a solution so that we can enjoy our evening out together without either of us resenting the other because we didn't get to see our choice." Ask the other person to do the same.
Listen carefully and non-judgmentally to what is being said. Listen to what Mindell calls "the edge" — the unexpressed issue of the conflict. Continuing the "going to the movies" scenario, the edge might be that one partner feels dominated in many areas of the relationship, feeling that their wants and needs are not respected. If you think you hear the edge, or the true underlying issue, verbalize it in a non-accusatory way and ask your partner if you are correct. If not, then ask for clarification.
When each has finished expressing their view and feelings, take a little time to absorb what each has said. Then look for the common ground, the shared vision. What aspects do you agree on? Find a way to collaborate.
Resolving the conflicts in our lives is usually not easy. It takes commitment and practice.
As Parry writes, "The energy that we use to make war is the energy we need to make real peace."
Based in Rockport, Susan Britt, M.Ed., is a personal relationship coach, a psychotherapist and former university director of career and counseling services. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at email@example.com and by telephone 978 546-9431. Her "Personal Matters" column appears regularly on Fridays in the Times.MY VIEW