by Miki Kashtan
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Resolving Conflicts: even when I have many obstacles to connecting with someone, I want to make myself available to work out issues between us with support from others. If I find myself giving up on someone, I want to seek support to remember the magic of dialogue and entrust myself to the process of healing and reconciliation to restore connection.
This commitment was in part inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s ending of his version of the “Right Speech” precept: “I will do everything in my power to resolve every conflict, however small.” Those last two words always shock me a little. So many relationships turn into shells because of not working out one “too small” conflict at a time: we believe we are letting go of the issue when in reality we erect invisible subtle barriers that grow into thick walls, until the memory of connection becomes a distant fantasy.
Then there are the conflicts that are “too big.” We are afraid of overwhelm, of hurting someone by bringing up something difficult, or of making things worse. Or we are too angry to know how to talk about it.
Indeed, without tools for resolving conflicts, the attempt to bring up a difficult situation often does “make things worse”. We are all such sensitive tender creatures with hearts that have so many longings that we carry. Our unskillfulness often does trigger pain in others, and if neither of us knows how to respond, the pain, the anger, the awkwardness, and the ensuing distance and resignation can be devastating. If our choice is between escalation and avoidance, I can easily see why avoidance would feel attractive.
There is another option, though. We all know that conflicts that we move into and out the other end successfully expand our hearts, deepen our connections, and increase our knowledge of self and other. What can we do to develop the willingness, the curiosity about learning from engaging, and the state of open-heartedness towards the work of resolving conflict? How can we remember that not working out a conflict is a clear loss? What will help us open up to receiving support from others to move towards resolution?
While I still often experience the habitual dread about taking on a conflict with a friend or colleague, over the years it has softened, the internal clench is shorter, and the choice to walk towards the conflict easier. I know, more and more, that combining honesty and care releases us both; with each successful attempt, something in me opens more. I long so much for this openness to the radical possibility of engagement to become first nature for all of us.
Practice: 1) Think of a conflict you’ve been avoiding. Consider your inner obstacles to embracing the potential inherent in this conflict. Who would you need to support you to be ready to engage with this conflict? Seek the support, and then approach the person with an intention to resolve the conflict to everyone’s benefit.
Miki Kashtan is a co-founder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication (BayNVC). She is inspired by the role of visionary leadership in shaping a livable future, and works toward that vision by sharing the principles and practices of Nonviolent Communication through mediation, meeting facilitation, consulting, and training for organizations and for committed individuals. Miki blogs at the Fearless Heart. Her articles have appeared in Tikkun magazine (e.g.Wanting Fully Without Attachment), Waging Nonviolence (e.g. Pushing the powerful into a moral corner at India’s Barefoot College), Shareable, and elsewhere.