Sometimes, what is really important when you are in conflict is having the grace to let go. This is an ability that does not come naturally to everyone. Geoff Drucker shares his experience on gaining the emotional control and wisdom needed to move on below:
Differences arise in every relationship. When all goes well, we iron them out through honest, respectful dialogue; or, if we need a little help, we call in a mediator to improve communication.
But sometimes dialogue is pointless or counterproductive, or would be impractical or impossible to arrange. The techniques required to respond to these situations are just as important, if not more so, than the interpersonal relations skills commonly taught in classes on negotiation, mediation, or conflict resolution. They don’t get us to “yes,” but they can heal past wounds and avoid future ones.
As a teenager, I was fascinated by martial arts moves I had seen in films and on television. At the time studios with beginner classes were few and far between on the East Coast. So upon arriving in California for college I registered for Chinese Kenpo, eager to gain new athletic skills and become proficient in self-defense.
Day one was hugely disappointing. The instructor led us through a simple drill in which one person threw a punch in ultra slow motion while the other stepped aside and moved away from the attacker. My grandmother could have done this. We repeated this drill over and over and over again. I thought seriously about leaving in protest. Bruce Lee never walked away from a fight like a sissy!
He also died really young.
Enlightenment eventually arrived: The instructor did not want to teach hormone-infested adolescent brains how to punch and kick until they were hard-wired to avoid or minimize a physical confrontation whenever possible. Kenpo emphasizes self-control and promoting your own well-being and the well-being of others. Violence is a last resort.
This training has been enormously helpful in addressing both physical and verbal threats to which disengaging was the only sensible response. The key is learning to shift the field of battle from external “enemies” to inner demons, such as outrage and righteous indignation, that incite bad choices. Fortunately, like external bullies, if these inner demons don’t get their way they eventually give up.
Post-graduation, I began to see that there was a whole lot more to professional and personal success than the substantive knowledge conveyed in college classes. A seminar I took to help fill in the gaps took us through a process for becoming “complete” in a relationship–unburdened by past events–even if the other person was unwilling or unable to discuss what transpired. This training has also been life-altering.
In today’s highly polarized environment, learning how to let go and move on is as important as ever. Differences of opinion can fuel an enriching debate. But different sets of facts and sharply contrasting ideas about what constitutes truth can easily touch off an explosion. Until we can speak with each other civilly, we are best off occupying parallel universes in relative peace.
Teaching and training in conflict resolution should reflect this reality. We should never stop believing that it is best to seek mutually agreeable solutions through open, honest communication. But the best should not be the enemy of the better. We must also prepare students to be as effective as possible in situations where the outcome is destined to be sub-optimal.
There is a time to come together. And there is a time to remain apart. To stay safe and whole, we need to know how to do both well and how to get the timing right.