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Deescalating Conflict

Deescalating Conflict

Shortly after I woke up, I began  my work day in my study. Looking out a window to the north, I saw the morning light on the meadow and shadows along the edge of the forest that rims our property. And, what was this? A steady stream of Major League baseball players in full uniform were running laps around the perimeter of the meadow. It was spring training. How interesting to watch their warm-up drills, I thought.

As I walked to the kitchen, out a window facing south, I was startled to see that an excavator had uprooted a tree and as was digging a huge pit in the meadow. An urgent response was needed. Agitated, I hurried out of the house as a crowd was gathering around the pit.

Then, I woke from my dream.

Notice how conflict escalated in my dream; in moments I had gone from being fascinated to mobilizing for action.

Storytellers depend on escalating conflict.  In literature, television, and the movies, an event occurs, a conflict escalates, and is then resolved favorably (or not) for the protagonist.

In the day-to-day reality that each of us perceives and experiences, our ego, too, tells stories of escalating conflict. Events occur, and our ego’s interpretation flags conflict. Conflict escalates in our ego’s narration until we rise to meet the intrusion. A resolution settles us, temporarily, until we rise again to the ego’s next cry of conflict.

Most of us are unaware of our ego’s trickery. We think we are responding to real events and that conflict is being caused by others.

Real Life: 

Beyond our dreams, consider this familiar scenario from real life. You are sitting in a meeting with Joe, a colleague with whom you rarely see eye-to-eye. Joe makes an observation that threatens your preferred solution to the problem at hand. Your mind fills with thoughts of judgment of Joe and whirls to construct a counter argument. Anticipating Joe’s next move, you imagine an elaborate scenario of how the disagreement will play out.

You’ve been down this path of judgment and conflict before. But this time, before you speak, you pause; you watch your thinking. This time, you are willing to respond in a different way.

Since conflict escalation begins in the mind, with the ego as the narrator of events, deescalation of conflict begins with a shift in mindset.

It is estimated that we have over 50,000 thoughts today. Our mind provides a running  interpretation of our experiences. What we experience via our thinking is not a snapshot of reality; we experience our interpretations. We give to events all the meaning they have for us. We do not have to treat our interpretations as reality.

As an experiment, tune into your thinking for a few minutes. For most of us,thoughts are often nonsensical fragments, jumping from subject to subject, one interpretation after another. Treating these thoughts seriously is a recipe for misery and conflict. We are not our thoughts.

Notice, I didn’t advise you to try changing your thoughts. Your pattern of thinking will change automatically as you give problematical thoughts less relevance.

Conflicts deescalate when we have the humility to laugh at our often comical, nonsensical  thinking–thinking that places our ego at the center of the universe.

What You Are Feeling is Not Being Caused by Others:

When we are upset, the mind searches for external reasons to explain what it is feeling. At the meeting,  Joe is not causing you to feel angry or anxious;  Joe is just revealing  the anger and anxiety that lies within.

For example, when you are driving in traffic,  other drivers have no power to reach into your mind and cause you to be angry or to feel stressed.  Different drivers react in different ways to the same situation and even you will react to the same situation differently on different days.

Recall a dream you’ve had. In a dream, through projection, we play the parts of all the characters. If Joe was an antagonist in your dream last night, it would be absurd to tell him off at work today.

Of course, at work, Joe is quite real. Nevertheless, just as in a dream, we project what lies within us on to other people we encounter.  A Course in Miracles put it this way: “Perception is a mirror, not a fact. And what I look on is my state of mind, reflected outward.”

In other words, we may believe we are judging our colleague for what they have done, but what we are really doing is judging a buried misdeed we believe we have done.

Does Joe seem to you to be difficult to work with? Use the law of projection; ask yourself, when was the last time that you created difficulties for others?

When we understand the law of projection, each day becomes a new opportunity to learn more about our way of being in the world. Those who seem to cause us the greatest difficulty become our greatest teachers; they hold up a mirror for us to see the problematical thoughts that need have no relevance in our experience of life.


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