An email I received yesterday triggered me. My first reaction was to write an email that thoroughly explained why I was right and why the sender was wrong. My response, though not mean-spirited, was self-righteousness, and it left no room for the other person's point of view. I moved my mouse to press "Send"...I paused..."Is this really how I want to handle this conflict? I sound like a petty child." I decided to wait a day before responding.
This morning that email sits in my Drafts folder. As I ponder what edits to make before sending it, I am also pondering how my situation is a microcosm of what is happening in Gaza.
"You hurt me. Now I'm going to hurt you back."
"I'm right, and I will prove that you are wrong."
"You make me feel threatened. So, I'm going to attack."
Whether it's a tense email exchange, an international crisis, or a fight on a kindergarten playground, the rationale for a violent response sounds the same. Our knee-jerk response is usually primal, ego-driven, and fear-based.
Pausing for a day helped me regain some perspective. I don't feel as threatened today. I realize that this person who emailed me likes to take strong stands. I admire that...it's just easier to admire when we are on the same side of the argument! While I still hold to my opinion, with a little space I now can admit that I might not be right. There is another valid viewpoint. Remembering all this, I dedicated my morning meditation to the wellbeing of the one who emailed me.
I started wondering about how I handle conflict:
- Can I discipline myself to pause before responding harshly?
- Am I open to the possibility that I am not totally right and that the other side is not totally wrong?
- Can I see through the aggressive action to view in the other person what I also am feeling: scared, angry, defensive, self-righteous or frustrated?
- Will I choose to see the whole person, not just the part I fear or dislike?
- Can I find something in the other side that I admire or relate to and build on that?
- Am I willing to pray for/send positive energy to those with whom I am in conflict?
This self-reflective approach to conflict is a lot less fun that sending a clever, nasty email followed by three snarky snaps in the air. It's less macho than firing another missile. But eventually, how we handle an issue becomes the issue. How we handle conflict becomes more important than what the initial conflict was about.
How we handle conflict creates an atmosphere that either generates more potential solutions or narrows our options down to fear and violence. It determines whether we grow our capacity for peace and cooperation or whether we as a species are doomed to self-destruction.
The choice is ours, and the choice to do the work of peace comes anew each day. Even how we respond to an email matters.