Welcome to HEN - Transforming Conflict for our Health, Environment, Negotiation
HEN is published each month by Julia Menard:
Helping the Workplace Engage - One Tough Conversation at a Time! juliamenard.com
HEN arrives at the full moon -
because light transforms darkness.
Full Moon: February 3, 2014 - Year 13, Issue 2
Table of Contents:
1. HEALTH - The Power of Stories
“Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors, or narratives. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.”
… Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director, Media Psychology Research Center
It’s been my experience that stories are powerful medicine. They can even shape our identity. If you’ve ever moved, from one city or country or even school to the next, you’ll know what I mean. Moving gives us the opportunity to shape who we are through projecting who we want to be with people who don’t have preconceived stories about who we can be.
When in conflict, becoming more aware of what story you might be telling yourself about yourself or others, gives you distance and a new perspective. Here’s one great story I heard on the radio recently that highlights the tremendous power and healing inherent in stories.
This story is about Gregory Corso, one of the original Beat Poets of the 1950’s.
Corso’s early years were very hard. At a year old, he was dropped off at an orphanage by his mother, then put into a series of foster homes. At 13, while working as an errand boy, he took some goods he was supposed to be delivering and sold them for a few cents to see a movie about a saint. He said later he was hoping to learn how to ask for a miracle to find his mother.
That act resulted in his arrest. He was then put in jail - and in a cell right next to someone who was criminally insane for killing his wife. After years of jail time in hard prisons and in difficult foster care, Corso started to find his calling as a poet. His very first poem was a tribute to his mother. He went on to become one of the most celebrated Beat Poets of the 1950s and 60s, along with Kerouac and Ginsberg. Yet, his whole life was dominated by the story that he was abandoned by his mother.
In Corso’s later years, after his best pal Ginsberg had died, a filmmaker who was making a documentary of Corso’s life suggested they go to Europe to trace the original times of the Beat poets. While there, Corso expressed an interest in finding his mother’s grave, buried in Italy somewhere. The filmmaker set out to find it, but found something else instead. Corso’s mother was actually alive - and in New Jersey, not far from where Corso himself lived.
Mother and son were reunited when Corso was in his late 60s. This is when he heard his mother say he had not been abandoned. She had been severely beaten within an inch of her life, with all her front teeth punched out, by Corso’s father. She needed to leave to save her life, but then tried to find her son again and couldn’t. Corso's father had blocked any communication and eventually her son was lost to her. This completely changed the narrative that Corso had been carrying most of his life from one of abandonment to one of being wanted. They reconciled and spent the last few years talking daily and travelling together, before Corso himself contracted prostrate cancer and died a few years later in 2001.
This story is such a powerful illustration of what can happen when we open ourselves up to new possibilities in our stories. Corso went from abandoned to found - in an instant. His identity shifted 180 degrees – on a story.
When you think about a situation that is causing you distress at the moment, what story are you telilng yourself about it? Is that true? Is that really true? Is that story serving you? If not, turn it around!
“My story about everything and everyone is my responsibility.”
... Byron Katie
2. ENVIRONMENT - Farmer's Markets are my Church
“There is a growing market today for local, organic foods produced by small farmers. And farmer’s markets have played a large role in making that happen.”
… Eric Schlosser
Someone told me a lovely story the other day. She’s a woman of independent means who’s lived in the same house for the last 40 of her 70+ years. We were talking about the power of communities and how churches can provide that kind of connection, by virtue of meeting the same people week after week.
She sat back and said: “You know, I’d say that the Moss Street Market is my Church.” She has been walking over to the Moss Street Market most every Saturday morning through the last 24 summers. She’s brought her own sons, now long grown up and moved on. She’s brought her grandchildren and even her neighbour’s grandchild. The ritual is to talk to the farmers, buy the produce and goods she wants, then sit for a while visiting and listening to the music. She expressed so much joy in the connections to those who grow her food and to the local food movement.
Her story about her beloved Moss Street Market showed me the importance of having local markets for local food. It’s not just about eating locally, which is important. It’s not just about creating more outlets for the commerce of food to occur, although that too is important.
It’s about community. It’s about connection. It’s about ritual and bringing our children and grandchildren and neighbour’s children to see about food.
This is the power in local farmer’s markets.
The Moss Street Market was originally founded in inspiration: Morris Lamrock had visited a farmer’s market in another city and decided to start one in his neighbourhood. It takes a seed of inspiration to start new things.
Does this story inspire you? Does your neighbourhood have a farmer’s market Maybe you will have a part to play.
“Three bricklayers were working side by side. When asked, ‘What are you doing?’ the first bricklayer replied: ‘I’m laying bricks.’ The second bricklayer was asked and he answered, ‘I’m feeding my family.’ The third bricklayer when asked the question, ‘What are you doing?’ responded, ‘We’re building a cathedral.’"
3. NEGOTIATION - Creating a New Metaphor for Conflict
As some of you know, Judy Zehr and I have been working on an e-book together which we are calling “Hold On To Yourself – Through Tough Conversations.” This month, I am including an excerpt from Chapter 1. We’d love to hear your feedback! Enjoy!
“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”
… Abraham Maslow
Imagine a life without any tough conversations, where you get up in the morning and go to bed at night with no struggles, no challenges, no difficulties in communication and relationship. Your boss and your co-workers are always supportive in every situation ever, your family members love every little thing you do at all times, and everyone is always agreeing with you!
If this seems like a pipe dream compared to your life, you’re not alone. A life completely empty of conflict is the life of either a miraculously advanced and spiritually evolved individual or a person who is isolated, numbed out or firmly situated in a too comfortable comfort zone.
For most of us, life won’t let us stay isolated, numbed out, or stuck in a safe place for very long. We have children, bosses, partners, neighbors, colleagues, clients and customers who force us to respond in ways that make us learn, change and grow.
That’s what conflict and tough conversations are all about.
Yet, it’s easy to believe wistful myths about conflict. Myths are beliefs that a whole group of people hold. That’s what makes myths so hard to see: when most people around you agree with your view of reality, the status quo usually remains in place. Bumping into differences challenge beliefs and even our pretense of identity; that’s what makes them so threatening.
Conflict forces us to examine beliefs we are comfortable holding and keeping in place.
There are four common conflict myths which serve to blind us to conflict’s potential for growth. These myths are most apparent when we’re upset or having a tough conversation.
Here they are - four of the most prevalent conflict myths. See if any ring true or familiar to you. They mimic the conflict styles work done by Blake and Mouton, Thomas-Kilmann, Kraybill and others:
- Accommodating myth: Conflict is bad because it ruins relationships, so I’d better be nice to you or else our relationship will be ruined.
- Competing myth: If there’s conflict, I’m usually right, and you're wrong. That is, I usually win or, if I’m unlucky, I’ll lose. Either way, conflict is a dog-eat-dog proposition.
- Avoiding myth: Conflict is so negative. It’s scary and destructive and it shouldn’t even exist. Can’t we just say we’re having some “challenges” instead?
- Compromising myth: What’s the big deal? Everybody should be able to resolve conflict quickly and efficiently. We just all need to give a little and take a little. There’s no real winner in conflict, but there’s no real loser either.
Did you recognize any of these beliefs? Did any remind you of anyone influential in your life? A parent perhaps or a sibling? Perhaps there’s a message you heard and rejected.
Believe it or not, these four myths can keep us stuck in that fable that conflict doesn’t’ exist. Depending on how strongly you believe any one of them, seeing conflict and tough conversations as natural, healthy and vital for our growth can seem unimaginable.
Yet, deciding to see conflict as holding potential for change and growth and even healing can actually help you hold on to yourself in the face of it.
The root of the word “conflict” means “to rub up against” and if we have active lives we are rubbing up against others on a regular basis. Tough conversations are built into the fabric of life. Without them chances are, we wouldn’t stretch ourselves beyond our habits. In Buddhist psychology, conflicts or difficult conversations are considered our “Buddha on the path”. It’s where we get to test our assumptions and perceptions, our goals and our values. Conflict helps us more clearly define ourselves and the meaning we give our life. It’s how we build intimacy and connection, how we relate and share our lives with each other.
To help shift from that comfortable place, which is often borne of fear of conflict, let’s start with what metaphors come to mind for you when you think about conflict now:
Here are some examples of ones that may be attached to the four myths:
- Accommodating: Conflict is like a rotting carcass – bad for everyone.
- Competing: Conflict is like a war - something to win or lose.
- Avoiding: Conflict is like the black plague – to be avoided at all costs.
- Compromising: Conflict is like a minor squalor, to be dealt with quickly and efficiently.
Now here are three new metaphors for conflict. Consider each of them in turn:
- Conflict is like a dance. If so, what does that mean for conflict in my life right now?
- Conflict is like white river kayaking. If so, what does that mean for conflict in my life right now?
- Conflict is like standing in the eye of the storm. If so, what does that mean for conflict in my life right now?
Notice what you think and how you feel as you consider what your own images for conflict might be and what a newer image could do for you.
What stories do you tell about conflict and how could a new image create a new story?
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Julia Menard, B.A., Cert. Con. Res., P.C.C.
Leadership & Conflict Coaching, Mediating, & Training