“Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict – alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence.” Dorothy Thompson
How do you respond to situations that don’t please you? Do you usually become angry or walk away when conflict arises? What response to conflict works best for you?
We Can Choose Our Responses To Conflict
Most of our lives are full of challenges that require or stimulate some kind of response. How we respond to the situations that upset us often determines the outcome of these situations. When we can respond peacefully or do not react without thinking first, we tend to have a more successful outcome without creating more conflict. But when we immediately react to what we don’t like with anger, we are almost sure to receive the same response.
When I taught in high school, managing conflict among students or their responses to me was a daily occurrence. If a conflict was serious enough, I could send the students to a counselor, but if the conflict was with me, I needed to solve the problem. There were always students who refused to get quiet and go to work. Some were disturbed about something that had happened in their lives; others were testing their boundaries with authority. Just asking them to settle down didn’t work.
What proved to be successful in most situations was for me to ask the student to step outside the classroom door where he could not see the other students and they could not see him, but where I could see both. Quietly, I would ask the student if he were upset about something and needed to talk about it. The answer was usually “no.” Then I would explain why his behavior was a problem and give him a choice. He could return to the room, not bother other students, and do his work or I would send him to an administrator. Ninety percent of the time, the student chose to return to the classroom and do his work.
We Can Create Peace By Listening
We always have a choice when conflict arises. If we take the time to think creatively, we can resolve our differences peacefully. Sometimes the person who is upset simply needs someone to listen to her and by expressing what she is feeling to a witness, she is able to release the anxiety or anger. We can connect in a loving way by saying, “I can see you are upset. What is really bothering you? Do you want to talk about it?”
Letting Go May Be the Best Solution
But there are also times when we cannot resolve a conflict. When we have tried and the other person refuses to participate in solving the problem, we may need to simply let it go. We can only take care of ourselves; we cannot force another person to do anything. The inability to work together to solve personal problems is a common reason for divorce. It takes both partners to solve the conflict.
There are also times when the anger that arises in a conflict becomes abusive verbally or physically. At this point, the best alternative is to walk away. People who habitually respond to conflict in an abusive way need professional help. We cannot change them – only they can choose to change.
Art Is A Peaceful Response To Conflict
In today’s world, we are all surrounded by violence, and while we can work with organizations that attempt to prevent it or become politically involved and protest what we are against, there is still another way to respond that touches me deeply. That is the response of the artist who in his/her work reveals deep truths through non-verbal media. Nick Cave’s exhibit at the Denver Art Museum last month was an excellent example.
Nick Cave, an African-American artist responded to the violent beating of Rodney King in 1992 by creating art that explored the issues faced by an African-American man. He began to create “Soundsuits,” suits made from found objects that made sounds and could be worn by people as they moved or danced. (Cave was an Alvin Ailey-trained dancer)(see video below)
After he created the first one, he was surprised. “Once I stepped into it I thought about building this sort of second skin, you know, a suit of armor, something for protection purposes. Then I started thinking about protest. In order to be heard you’ve got to be aggressive, you’ve got to speak louder. He then decided to call it the “Soundsuit.”
Camouflaging Our Real Identity Causes Conflict
Looking at Cave’s “Soundsuits”, I experienced a range of emotion from awe to fear. I thought of all the ways we camouflage who we are behind masks of clothing, speech, and mannerisms. As a woman growing up in the South, I was taught not to say negative things or create conflict. For many years, as I learned to express my true feelings in situations, I felt guilty when I did find the courage to express ideas that others might not want to hear, particularly men. I knew what it was like to live behind a protective identity.
Processing Our Intense Emotions
Processing our thoughts through any artistic expression or journaling, as I often do, may help us to alleviate the intensity of the negative emotions we want to express but which will create conflict. Having some way to process them allows us to take the time to understand what we do need to express and how we can do it so that it will be heard.
You don’t have to be an artist to find creative responses to conflict. Just stopping long enough to take a deep breath does wonders. You do have to be aware that it is your ego that is so attached to the fight and always wants to be right. When we let go of our ego attachment to the situation, we are more able to see the spiritual elements in the conflict and hopefully find spiritual solutions that will serve everyone well. As Wayne Dyer says, “Conflict cannot survive without your participation.
© 2013 Georganne Spruce ZQT4PQ5ZN7F5
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