Showing Up for Conflict

Recently I had the incredible pleasure of interviewing Kenneth Cloke, a renowned mediator and peace-builder, founder of Mediators Beyond Borders and all around brilliant intellectual.  As we sat in a crowded coffee shop in New York City, he used Aristotle, the civil rights movement, People’s Court and quantum physics to illustrate various models of conflict resolution and social change.  But the simple quip that I’ve been playing over in my head most frequently was “This is conflict we’re talking about.  You have to show up for this or you’re going to miss something.”

Conflict is scary, messy and overwhelming.  Mostly, we want to run away from it or bury our heads in the sand like proverbial ostriches.  But conflict gives us an opportunity to transform ourselves or our situation in life.  

Cloke goes on to say, “All conflicts reflect two things: the first is some need or desire and secondly, a lack of real skill to get what you need or desire.”  Choosing to “show up” for conflict means that you use the opportunity to build the skills necessary to move past this particular conflict so you don’t have to keep repeating it.

How do we do this?

  • Pay attention to your perceptions, your interpretations of those perceptions and your internal reactions to those interpretations

  • Take mindful actions and don’t just react

  • Listen to and deconstruct your own conflict story to better understand the areas of importance

  • Reflect on your unseen role in the conflict

  • Tell the other person’s version of the conflict story to yourself so that you can better understand their perspective and your own blind spots

  • Hold yourself to the same standard you would hold someone else in trouble and give yourself the same grace

I was walking in the woods this week, feeling a little blue about the dense foliage that now shrouds the long-range views I’ve been reveling in throughout the fall and winter.  Head down, watching my feet on the trail, I noticed a spot of pink.  I nearly walked on but stopped and saw the improbable and delicately puffed lady slipper orchid.  I’ve imagined these short-seasoned and illusive flowers as the fairies of the plant world since I was introduced to them in the Minnesota woods where I grew up.  

I might have missed the lesson that what we seek isn’t always what we need had I trudged up the hill in pursuit of relief from the darkened canopy.  This day, this pink slipper, served as a reminder that we find gems where we focus our attention.  Had the trees been bare of leaves, my eyes would have been on the long-range views and not the beauty at my feet.