The idea that our human conflicts are damaging to us, and can--even must--be ended isn’t new. My personal favorite expression comes from Joni Mitchell’s song California:
Sittin’ in a park in Paris, France, readin’ the news and it’s all bad. They won’t give peace a chance, that’s just a dream some of us had.
Not the most famous expression of this thought and sentiment, but my favorite because of the vulnerability and hope that shines through Michell’s divine and feminine expression of her art.
It’s been a long journey to peace, though. And as we observe the bubbling-over of centuries- (really millennia-) old conflicts in the US--my country--and elsewhere in the world, it’s easy to believe that, as humans, we’ve not even charted a course yet. To feel discouraged, perhaps even at times hopeless and afraid.
In our darkest moments, it’s the perfect time to take stock of what we have found. We have ourselves, each of us. And that’s no small gift. Each of us is a fully unique expression of whatever we decide we are, and each of us has the freedom to develop ourselves into whomever we want to become.
Sometimes, we don’t seem to know this. Challenging experiences in our childhood, occurring when we are so vulnerable and in the stage of literal “programming,” can lead us to adopt false and limiting beliefs. False beliefs about our lack of empowerment, lack of equality, even lack of self-worth. Cultures and the systems they spawn can--and do--compound this quandary.
To add to the predicament, we learn our patterns of survival behavior--which reinforce those false beliefs--from the people who taught them to us--our parents. It may be more accurate and certainly kinder to say those patterns came through our parents, since I can’t believe most parents want to teach their children any habits that won’t serve them.
Sometimes we even stop seeing our puzzles--our challenges--as existing for our good, and develop the compounding false belief that they exist to torment us. When this happens, life can become tiring, painful and deep down, scary.
So what to do? Often with the best of intentions, we react to the fear inside us that we are afraid to connect with. We spiff up some of those survival behavior patterns by trying to adopt a “nice” or “respectful tone,” adding humor and art, or supporting them with the latest scientific research. None of those things are inherently bad. But when we really get scared, most of us will just start slinging blame the way captive chimps throw poop--and for similar reasons. It’s how we can be in our imperfect vulnerability. But it’s not who we are.
So what are our other options? We’ve already tried every diverse path to peace we think we can imagine and--again and again--find they all lead to polarization. Two sides, “Us” and “Them” emphasizing their differences and each trying to eliminate the other. Or at least trying to change them, which our current understanding of relationship dynamics finally acknowledges is disrespectful at its core.
The loud wailing and gnashing of teeth I observe in the media and so many people--all feeling powerless, afraid of losing their power, or both--doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s real. The experiences I observe and am told about: of pain, frustration, feeling unseen, unheard, unappreciated, lied to, stolen from, gaslighted; those experiences are definitely real. All of them. Each and every one has validity.
There would be value in writing more deeply about all of this, but my blog posts tend to be long anyway. Better to get to what we all seem to be looking for right now: how do we break the cycle? I have two suggestions.
The first will surprise no one who is familiar with my work: go within. Connect to your feelings. Acknowledge that they are yours, and your responsibility to connect with. If you need support to do this, find some.
Your feelings are helpers for you, even the scary ones. And we all have access to all feelings when needed. Feelings give us information on how our body is reacting to circumstances, both within and outside of us. We need only to acknowledge and receive that information--brought by every single feeling--to benefit from it. Further, once we do receive the information our feelings bring, they go away (until the next time they are needed).
Feelings exist to deliver their message. They do not exist to direct our actions toward others or even ourselves. Our actions will certainly be influenced by our feelings, but the better our relationship with our own feelings, the more choices we realize we have in what action to take. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve always appreciated more choices.
This connecting with our feelings--physically connecting and opening ourselves to accepting, and even appreciating--is called validating our feelings. “Validate” means to support, corroborate, to recognize worthiness and legitimacy. Feelings are always worthy and legitimate in everyone. It bears repeating:, they are messengers bearing information about the impact something is having on an individual, to that individual.
All this conflict is occurring as humanity transitions from a power-and-control system based on fear--where the feelings of certain individuals have greater value than the feelings of others--to a co-creative reality that recognizes that the feelings and experiences of each and every participant are valid and must be considered in order for our system to remain in balance--this is the most basic requirement for true peace.
As we strive to listen to the feelings and experiences of those whom we have overlooked while we prioritized our own survival, our shame and fear are triggered. Sometimes, when it feels overwhelming, we go back into our survival behaviors and blame the very people we are striving to get to know and love more deeply. It is painful, for all of us. None of us are immune from this very human experience. We must be patient with ourselves and with each other as we cycle in and out of the chaos of the feelings that arise when others tell us about their pain and disappointment, and we realize our own behavior played a role in that.
I promised two practical tools, though, not just one. Self-connection, self-validation of one’s feelings is the first, and finding support for our self-connection needs to be our first priority. But once we’ve done that, what else can we do?
Once we’ve got our own house in order, it’s time to look to the community. And this can be a really large challenge. Because the challenges we see in the community are reflections of that which we invalidate in ourselves.
There is a simple solution when confronted with a fellow human or group of humans presenting an idea or a behavior with which we disagree. One simple action, followed by a simple statement and second action.
First: self-connect. Know how this idea or behavior makes you feel. You may share your feelings with the other person, or you may not, but you must validate the feelings that you have to yourself, minimally, about what is before you.
Next, the statement: “No, thank you.” It isn’t necessary to use these words precisely, but the energy behind the words you use must be the same. “No” asserts your boundary, your right to have a boundary, your right to make your own choices. “Thank you” acknowledges the gift of sharing brought by the Other.
Perhaps you find what the Other is proposing to be frightening or abhorrent, even a threat to survival? That’s fine: those are your feelings and beliefs. You have not only a right to them, but the responsibility to be true to them, in order to live fully as yourself and bring the gift of your Self to the world. And yet, even when the Other’s behavior or ideas scare us or are out of alignment with our truth, our fellow humans are all on a similar journey--even that Other with whom we are disagreeing. We don’t see anyone else’s journey fully, we don’t know how they came to be who they are. The Other’s experience has as much validity as our own.
The “thank you” in the phrase “no, thank you,” demonstrates a base level acknowledgement of commonality and appreciation for the Other’s humanity, as we value our own. It carries the same energy as the Sanskrit word, “namaste,” which translates as “I bow to you,” and I have heard translated as “I honor the light within you.” It validates the Other.
Put together: the phrase “no, thank you” (1) establishes your boundary, then immediately (2) validates the Other; softens any perceived invalidation, with genuine appreciation for good intent.
Finally? Take the action that feels connected and appropriate to you. That is all.
What we judge, what we mock, what we deride--belittle, humiliate, malign, trivialize, denigrate, abuse--what we fight, we draw closer to ourselves. Which is usually the last thing we want to do. And yet, in the control of denied fear, we often act against our best interests.
There is, indeed, a time to take action to protect ourselves. If we need to, we are inspired in the moment (for more on this, check out The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker). Yet most of the conflict between humans is based on the pattern of avoiding responsibility for our own more challenging feelings, such as fear and anger, and projecting it on others. Once we truly know how our beliefs, emotions and behavior work together to perpetuate the cycle, we can choose differently and finally break free.
Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels