Words & Ideas—As Tools Of Diplomacy— Have Always Been More Effective Than Weapons, Bullying Or Wars In Defusing Conflicts And Achieving Desired National & International Goals.
By Dina Eliash Robinson
Diplomacy has helped avert more wars than any political bullying or show of military power ever did. Its most effective tool in defusing tinderbox situations and resolving disputes without violence has always been the horse-trading we politely call negotiation.
That nothing and no one has ever been able to create permanent peace is reminiscent of the ancient myth of poor Sisyphus, who spent his life rolling a big boulder uphill, only to force him back as it rolled down again and again. This cautionary tale puts us on notice that while strife-free intervals can occur from time to time, they don’t last forever—not between nations, not among different cultural or religious groups and certainly not among individuals. In short, conflict is part of the human existence; it is how we manage it that makes the difference between calamity and a healthy way to grow our creative problem-solving capabilities.
Far from futile, the struggle to forge harmonious relationships—or at least keep inevitable tensions at a simmer, without violent eruptions—is the kind of effort that keeps our do-good muscles toned and the better angels of our nature alert to win-win possibilities for all. The work it takes to communicate assertively but not aggressively, with awareness of our innate prejudices and sensitivity toward one another’s feelings, cultural and personality differences and needs, is always worthwhile and enormously rewarding.
Managing and resolving conflict without violence or even such passive forms of aggression as threats and manipulation, has become no less than an essential survival skill in our interconnected, diverse and youth-heavy world. According to an April 11, 2015 article published in the online edition of the San Diego UT, our region has the highest percentage of 18 – 35 year-olds in the U.S., and thus, in urgent need of training resources dedicated to effective communications that help avoid aggressive or risky behavior by channeling high spirited energy and potentially inappropriate or destructive youthful impulses into constructive and above all, non-violent activities.
There is no greater or more urgent need all around our embattled Spaceship Earth than a generational shift from the currently prevalent (and fashionable) dystopian view and fantasies of life, to a more optimistic, hopeful—and if not quite utopian, at least idealistic—mindset of practical and realistic possibilities. In short, life on Earth depends on its inhabitants’ resolve to remember the historical proof that aggression is the game of cowards, losers, parasites depending on others’ creativity, toil and accomplishments; while the mark of heroic courage is the relentless Sisyphusian struggle to push humanity upward, ever-closer to its collective potential to change itself into a more rational, emotionally intelligent, compassionate and conscientious guardian of a more peaceful and life-sustaining world.
While preschool nor pre-natal teaching are good first steps, at this time, it is more urgent to change youth cultures around the Globe through intensive training that is custom-designed to change the communication habits of groups and individuals even more effectively than the current marketing practices employed in the commercial realm (such as the telltale ‘cookies’ left behind your Internet surfing, which give away your commercially exploitable interests).
At least part of this cohort—the Y and X generation of 18 to 25 year olds—has a biological excuse for its collective behavioral and mental glitches. Science blames the brain’s frontal cortex, a Sleeping Beauty, which takes a long time to become fully functional as the locus and purveyor of reasoned judgment, foresight and rational assessment of cause and effect.
Parents, siblings, teachers and friends of teenagers could replace eye-rolling with shrugs by simply reminding themselves that the alarming disconnect between teens’ protestations of good and reasonable intentions and the outrageous, rude or stupid messages emerging from their mouths or finger-tips is the fault of a still dormant, or at least half-awake prefrontal cortex.
Good manners and communication skills that include awareness of cultural, religious, gender and racial diversity present not only in our melting pot country but also throughout this globalized world, are keys to success for people of all ages.
The following tips on communication skills that help defuse, manage and resolve interpersonal conflicts, are excerpted from Dina Eliash Robinson’s book, PeaceTalk™–A Guide to Harmonious Relationships©:
• Anger is a secondary emotion, triggered by such primary emotions as Fear, Hurt or Frustration. So if you feel angry, first find the primary emotion that triggered it and work through that first. As you change what needs to be changed to resolve that trigger, the Anger resulting from it will eventually dissipate. Simple ways of dealing with the trigger include talking about it honestly with a trusted individual, or if that is not possible or feels uncomfortable, writing it down as fully and descriptively as you can, reading it over periodically for days or weeks, until the anger subsides.
• If you want to be heard, first learn to listen like a Mind-Detective or Investigative Reporter. Hear both the spoken and unspoken messages (a form of ‘reading between the lines’). Take a moment to get your mind around every detail. Make sure you heard and understood correctly by rephrasing what you heard in your own words and asking your communication partner if that was what s/he had meant to say. Only when you both agreed on what was said should the conflict be discussed in full.
• When you do react to the interchange, make sure you avoid any expression that could be interpreted as blaming. Also, avoid using the accusatory ‘you’ and substitute the pronoun ‘I’ instead, following it up with an impersonal description of the topic. (Example: “When I hear that there is a suspicion that the neighbor poisoned the cat, although there is no corpse or other evidence, I feel that an investigation is the best first step in solving this problem. That way we avoid the risk of turning a rumor into unfair—and premature—accusations and provoking misplaced emotions that can lead to violence or other forms of persecution.”)
• The first question a conflict partner who feels wronged needs to ask him- or herself is “What do I want to happen as a result of this Safe Confrontation session?” Only when a clear objective exists can the dialogue aimed at resolving the conflict begin.