This post originally appeared in 2018, but it is still relevant today:
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 mind poison 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 United Nations, fellow conflict resolution professionals, and entrepreneur resources, couched between photographs of the Trump Baby Balloon, 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: Forgive the world for having conflicts and 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’oponopono Prayer, 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: Free the emotions (before engaging the other person), assume you know nothing about anything, and 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. You will survive, even if it hurts temporarily, 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.
Learn how to better resolve your own conflicts
Nance L. Schick, Esq. is a New York City attorney and mediator who focuses on keeping people out of court and building their conflict resolution skills, especially in business and employment disputes. Her holistic, integrative approach to conflict resolution draws from her experience as a crime victim, human resources supervisor, minor league sports agent, and United Nations representative. She is a 2001 graduate of the State University of New York Buffalo Law School trained in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and International Center for Ethno-Religious Mediation (ICERM). She is also creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution: Seven Choices and Five Actions of a Master, and an award-winning entrepreneur, who has been acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards), and Urban Rebound NY/Count Me In (Finalist, 2013 Pitch Competition).