Over the past few years, I have become aware of my sensitivity to negative messaging on television and social media. I canceled my cable TV subscription, when the monthly charges grew for fewer substantive options. For a variety of reasons, both obvious and not, I sold the TV my ex-boyfriend gave me, and I found myself enjoying books again. But I still use social media to keep in touch with loved ones far away and to develop deeper connections to new contacts. So, I’m not entirely insulated from the #mindpoison we inflict on ourselves and each other.
A quick look at my Twitter feed, as I am writing this post, and I see mostly positive messages from the #UnitedNations, fellow #conflictresolution professionals, and entrepreneur resources, couched between photographs of the #TrumpBabyBalloon, calls to impeach him, and various people telling others what they are supposed to be doing about the world’s problems. Over on Facebook, friends and their friends are arguing over the reasonableness of #monogamy, whether the #WNBA is a “real” sports league (since the athletes are women *ugh*), and what constitutes #rape. Earlier this morning, as I watched an instructional video to improve my swimming technique, I reminded myself not to read the comments.
In an instant, I make two of the #SevenChoices: 3) Forgive the world for having conflicts and 5) Clear your mind. It is not going to benefit me or anyone else to engage in an angry debate on social media. I consciously send love their way and move on. Sometimes, I use the ancient Hawaiian #Ho’oponoponoPrayer, regardless of whether I think I am “at fault”:
I love you.
Please forgive me.
At other times, we might need to respond. A stranger writes a negative review on our business page. A loved one misunderstands your post and seems hurt or angry. In those cases, we can select differently from the Seven Choices: 4) Free the emotions (before engaging the other person), 6) Assume you know nothing about anything, and 7) Listen with your third ear.
Listening with compassion and empathy requires practice—and patience. Most of us aren’t taught to listen in this way. We listen for necessary information to defend ourselves or that we can act on. We often toss the emotional components aside as less useful or irrelevant, not recognizing those components are what drive every conflict. We try to avoid people when they are angry because we fear them, and maybe we should. We must trust our instincts when we are face-to-face during a confrontation. But we must not allow our reptilian brains to trick us into believing we are at risk of imminent physical harm online. You aren’t going to die from an insult and, even if it hurts temporarily, you will survive, unless your next action is harmful. (Remind me of this the next time someone tries to silence me by cyberbullying me. Okay?)
Once you feel safe engaging, try to determine what isn’t being said—what’s behind the person’s anger. Again, don’t assume. Even if you’re a professional psychologist, you know you can’t accurately diagnose narcissistic personality disorder or sociopathology without a complete examination or multiple visits. You also know these diagnoses are probably overused. Don’t try to label the other person’s account of their experience. Just try to understand the situation from their perspective, even if you disagree with it.
I remember having a conversation with one of my sisters. She told me how much easier my life was than hers because I am the youngest and I (supposedly) got more financial help than she did. I wanted to defend myself and remind her how I took care of our mother through two of her cancers, how I helped raise my nephew, and how I often worked three jobs while doing all of this—and while going to school. But I decided before I made the call that the purpose of it was for me to love and connect with her. Defending myself would not have accomplished this, nor was she likely to change her view of my life. To this day, I doubt she has, but it does not change who I am.
I added nothing to the account my sister gave me of the life I live. It didn’t matter. It still doesn’t, at least not in the grand design of our lives. I love her, and I wish she saw me in a better light. I wish she respected and appreciated me. But withholding love from her, disrespecting her, or failing to appreciate who she is in the world will not benefit me. We are each designed to live, to love, and to enjoy our lives. That is where I choose to focus, and I invite you to do the same.
We have long been told that we must choose our battles wisely. Slow down. Make the Seven Choices. Then, take the #FiveActions to explore the conflict more deeply. Connect with your own thoughts, beliefs, wants, needs, and wishes, with the intent of satisfying them on your own, rather than waiting for someone else to change or a fairy godmother to grant your wish. There will be times when you need to speak up. There will be times when you speak up ineffectively, if not dangerously. Make sure it’s worth the risk.
For more help tuning your third ear, listen to some of the conflicts we’ve resolved. Also, please reach out, if we can support you through a conflict. We remain committed to making 2018 your best year yet.