Transforming our Relationship to Conflict
New year. New beginnings. It’s that time of year when we typically look at the past and hope for a better future. It’s no coincidence January is named after the Roman god Janus, who was the god of beginnings and endings, of transitions and doorways. Many of us made resolutions of those things we want to change this year. Perhaps those aspirations were health goals, or career objectives, or financial milestones we wanted to accomplish. I don’t know what your specific resolutions might have been - but the sad reality is that by this time every year (at about the middle to end of January according to most research on goals), most of us have quit or let go of those aspirations. The door, in other words, has closed.
But, we can always unlock that door that has seemingly shut. When we fail to achieve goals, whether they be health, relationship, financial, career, etc., one of the reasons might be because our psychological relationship to these goals needs to change.
Take our relationship to conflict. It’s rare to find someone that looks forward to conflict. Experiencing conflict never feels good. We get stressed. Conversations are tense. We go into that fight/flight/freeze/fawn state. And so, maybe one of our goals this year is to manage conflict better. But we don’t know how to do that. We’re caught up on the belief that we’re just not meant to be good at managing conflict. Here’s a story that can help us change our perspective about conflict, and frankly, our psychological relationship to other goals we fail to achieve.
Ages ago there was a young man that was traveling the world seeking wisdom. Time and time again he was disappointed by those he encountered. Some he encountered were charlatans. Others just seemed to spew the same “wisdom” that seemed so simple but couldn’t possibly contain any true insights. His belief then became that people were either frauds or fools. One day, as he journeyed around the world, he stumbled upon a village and the villagers promised him that the little old lady that lived at the top of the hill had much wisdom to proffer. So, he trekked up the hill as he mumbled to himself repeatedly that she probably didn’t have any wisdom. She was either a fool or a charlatan. He arrived at her small hut, shook his head at the meager surroundings and concluded she was a fool because a fraudster would live in a better home. He pounded on her door and the door slowly eventually opened. The little old lady smiled at him and before she could say anything he began a tirade that lasted minutes. At the end, the little old lady still smiled, and when he was done yelling at her, she gently closed the door. She hadn’t reacted. She hadn’t said anything. Wanting to see her react to his tirade, he decided to return the next day. And the same thing happened. Door opened, tirade ensued, and door gently closed. For 7 days this repeated itself. On that final day, the little old lady spoke and said, “Let me ask you a question: If someone offers someone a gift, and the person it is offered to doesn’t want the gift, to whom does the gift belong to?” “That’s a stupid question,” he retorted, “the gift belongs to the one that offered it.” “Exactly,” said the little old lady, “and so if I decline your gift of anger, to whom does it belong to?” And in that moment, the young man’s relationship to others and what he believed about them was transformed immediately because he realized that he had the power to, at any given time, accept or decline what others offer. Here, the little old lady had chosen to see conflict as a gift - and this empowering belief changed her relationship to how she experienced conflict. The traveler now understood this and how whether it was negative emotions, pearls of supposed wisdom, or anything else, he ultimately could see it as a gift to accept or decline.
This story reminds us about the power of beliefs. And when it comes to achieving goals it is worthy examining whether we might have some limiting beliefs about those things we wish to achieve. We often know what we need to do differently (save money, eat better, exercise, etc.) but until we have empowering beliefs behind those goals we might not ultimately succeed. Maybe, the belief that is interfering with achieving our goals is that we are not worthy, or maybe that we’re not good enough. If you examine your beliefs – ask yourself - are they empowering or limiting?
January will come and go, and with it doors of opportunities seemingly close, but the reality always is that we have the keys to unlock those doors.