On being the bigger person..
I’ve been taking a further look at the human dilemmas that arise in our relationship to conflict.
Last month I wrote about seeking to maintain the capacity to connect so we can think together to resolve difficult situations with conflicting needs.
As I observed what happens with me, or others, that blocks the way to this reaching towards another, I noticed the power and purpose of cultivating a practice that includes crafting and responding to “Incisive Questions”. One such practice is giving yourself permission to have Thinking Sessions.
“Incisive Questions” is the 9th Component of a Thinking Environment. As Nancy Kline says, the liberation of the human mind lies right inside the Incisive Question.
Why does practicing crafting these kind of questions matter so much when it comes to being able to resolve conflict? I’ve been teaching in businesses for most of September. I’m always captivated by the litany of “yes, this is wonderful, this makes so much sense, this is, of course, the way we should conduct ourselves in our lives and especially at work……… but……….”. Invariably that is followed by the list of those with whom it will not work: “My attention-deficit Board of Directors, my boss, that person on my team, my husband, my wife, my kids……”
I’ve been asking people: “What do you think you might be assuming that makes you think it will not work with so-and-so….?” And the answer is, again with a certain kind of inevitability, a limiting assumption. An assumption that contains criticism of some sort; an assumption that is being lived as though it is not an assumption, rather a fact about that other person, or group, or place or situation.
It’s a fascinating conundrum, this attachment to being right and making someone or thing wrong. When we sit comfortably on this side of the “make wrong” fence, never extending ourselves toward the other, we remain stuck with our unchallenged assumptions.
We all live along continua that at their extreme ends, result in mental illness – personality disorders, psychosis, narcissism. We’ve all got doses of these conditions within us. An everyday form of psychosis is these assumptions we make that cause us to pull back from and act with suspicion, guardedly, towards others. One of the easiest ways to dispel the likely mythic disproportions of our assumptions is to check them out....yes! That’s right! Ask the other person, something along the lines of, “When you said that thing……I thought you meant/thought/were saying x about y………..and I assumed that meant a, b, c…….. Is that what you were saying, thinking, feeling, meaning?”
It’s a bit of a Catch 22, because we really need to have the conversation in order to find out just how wrong we are, and be released from the psychotic grip of our assumption (automatically tipped out from a whole store of them gathered up over the course of a lifetime!) But the very thing that assumption is likely to do, is to pull you away from the person or thing towards which the assumption is being made!
It strikes me then, that cultivating a habit of Thinking Sessions, as a practice for supporting your life, growth and development is such a brilliant practice. Being a Thinker in a session gives you the opportunity to hone your skill at loosening up your assumptions. You step back from them and asses them with a dispassionate eye, selecting the most oppressive amongst them over and over again, and then…………voila! You choose to dismiss them and replace them with carefully chosen and tenderly articulated alternative perspectives that are true and liberating and free your mind to soar to new possibilities! Fresh ideas, plans and actions become available that have hitherto been inaccessible, languishing beneath hardened assumptions, that keep us trapped in cycles of repetitious conflict.
I’m thinking of this as cultivating the art of “being the bigger person”. This means allowing myself to be vulnerable when I feel threatened. This means choosing again and again to seek connection as opposed to settling for the smug comfort of being right. When connection is threatened, can I practice questioning my assumption FIRST? That is, instead of opting for an assumption which will shutter me up against the hurt I fear, can I instead choose to engage in a process of healing the old wounds by replacing the assumptions that underlie them with freely chosen new truths that invite me to be the bigger person?
If I knew that each of us is very likely doing the best we can with what we have at any given moment, how would I question the boxes I’ve placed people in that prevent me from treating them with love, and compassion and respect?