© 2000 Douglas E. Noll
In this column, I want to pass on some tips about maintaining peace and tranquility in your families during this holiday season. Call this a quick guide to everyday peacemaking. These tips are really way to replace your habits of conflict with habits of peacemaking. The reason we tolerate so much conflict around us is because we have allowed conflict to be habitual. Consequently, its just easier to let the conflict escalate than to engage people as a peacemaker. If you want to try the new habits of peace, check out these tips.
The most glorious gift you can give your family is your ability to listen without judgment to what is said around you. This gift costs nothing, but confers wonderful feelings on all those who receive it. When a family member is speaking to you, stop what you are doing and listen. What is this person feeling right now? What is this person hoping for? You can even ask, "Oh, so you were feeling frustrated and hoping that the store clerk would spend some time with you?" Even if you don’t guess at feelings and hopes, you can simply summarize, in a short-hand sort of way, what you heard. "Sounds like you ran into a store clerk who wasn’t paying attention to you." The gift of listening others into existence is a powerful and wonderful way of creating connections to those you care for.
Take responsibility for your own behavior. If you make a mistake, apologize and make amends. If someone around you makes a mistake, be quick to forgive and forget. We let a lot of little things unnecessarily annoy us. Although we react preconsciously to most of what goes on around us, we can choose not to be reactive to what we are feeling. Be aware of how you are feeling moment to moment. Know when you are tired or anxious or under pressure to get something done right away because these are times you are likely to snap back at someone. Be vigilant about your own feelings so that you can respect the feelings of others. Conflict often arises because we are not paying attention to how we are reacting and why. We lash out without thought, which only escalates the dispute. Be self-aware.
If you feel angry or upset, leave the situation for a few moments. Remember that anger is generally triggered by a cascade of events, not just one event. You must break the chain of events to stop your emotional reactions. That’s why stepping out on the balcony and counting to 20 is so often recommended.
In the presence of angry or upset people, acknowledge their anger. "Gee, Aunt Martha. I can see that you are really upset. Boy, I’d be upset too if that happened to me. What can we do to make things right?" People usually become angry and upset because they feel disrespected or unacknowledged. Simply acknowledging the angry feelings of a family member will work miracles in restoring peace.
If Uncle Charlie and Cousin Sam are fighting or arguing, intervene quickly. Take one of them away and "caucus" with them. "Hey, Uncle Charlie, come outside for a minute. I’d like a word with you." Once outside, listen to Charlie, acknowledge his feelings, and find out what’s upsetting him. Offer to talk to Cousin Sam on behalf of Charlie. Then have a quick talk with Sam. You will see the problem. Bring them together for a quick peacemaking session. Have them exchange stories one at a time without interruption. Have them explain what injustices they feel. Then ask them both for ideas on how to make things right. In five minutes, you can completely reverse the situation.
Now maybe this argument has disrupted a really fun get together and you are pretty angry yourself. You can express yourself, but do so by telling Charlie how you experienced the situation. "Charlie, I am really upset that this happened. Listening to you and Sam shout at each other frustrated me because I was hoping for a really fun family dinner. And I guess I felt mad because all of my plans for a wonderful time seemed to go down the drain." The important point here is not to accuse Charlie of mucking things up. You are much better off explaining how you feel than blaming Charlie for his behavior.
All of this sounds so common-sensical. Yet we fail to act this way year after year. The reason, I think, is that we have become habituated to reactive behavior patterns. We have habits of conflict that we carry with us. What we really need are some habits of peace. These quick tips are some of the habits of an everyday peacemaker. Like any other skill, they will be awkward at first. With a little practice, you will gain confidence that these tips work. Even more importantly, as you experience the amazing results of watching peace unfold from conflict, you will rewarded with an inner serenity that cannot be described. Then you will have your habits of peace.
The Way of the Peacemaker: May you have a happy and harmonious holiday season by engaging your habits of peace.
Douglas E. Noll, Esq. is a lawyer specializing in peacemaking and mediation
of difficult and intractable conflicts throughout California. His firm,
Douglas E. Noll and Associates is based in Central California. He may
be reached through his website