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Conflict Unusual — A New Way Forward, Together

Conflict Unusual — A New Way Forward, Together
April 15, 2021 Rachel Alexander, Esq.
Two young boy soldiers looking at the skies

{7 minutes to read}  It’s hard to be an American or friend of America right now and be unaware of conflict.  The polarization, upheaval, political and racial division of the last years has risen to a piercing pitch that even the tone-deaf cannot ignore. This is a great climate to take a fresh look at conflict and how we are able, and unable, to deal with it.

Conflict as usual (The Old Way)

The old way of conflict is aggression.  War.  Civilly, globally, interpersonally.

Conflict is indistinguishable from threat.  Conflict encompasses notions of power, danger and survival.  Either/ or. Kill or be killed.

The “other” is enemy — vilified; entirely different from” us”, mean, ugly, illegitimate.

The old way of conflict is limited and stale.  It simplifies, caricaturizes, and compresses the other into a unidimensional version of itself — something that can then be subverted by us. This is our default method of managing conflict. It’s built-in and makes sense, and also has got to go.

We simplify as an unconscious strategy to protect ourselves.  Conflict is close to crisis and arouses many of the same reptilian brain thinking for most of us – we resort – biologically — to black/white/good/bad – for survival.


We make violence where it is unwarranted and unnecessary.


The threat of “other” is innate — different is indistinguishable from foe.  For survival, this reduction was safe: the unknown = potential harm.  Better to sit close to the campfire, once fire and gathering had been achieved, than wander into the dark where predators might lurk.  Same was safe.  Other was ominous.

Not only is this old way defunct and unnecessary — it actually creates true dangers in the present.  We make violence where it is unwarranted and unnecessary.  Where we could be inventing something unimagined.  Something life-enhancing.  Something wonderful.


We need a new way not because we want to be kinder and gentler, but because the old way is obsolete.


We reduce our resources instead of pooling and celebrating them.  We limit ourselves into tribes when tribal living is anachronistic and maladaptive to the requirements of today.

We need a new way not because we want to be kinder and gentler, but because the old way is obsolete.  We need one another to deepen who we ourselves can be — we need this gigantic population of ours not for earth-decoration, but for what we can contribute to the human collective. In order to have the great benefit of our extraordinary numbers, various talents and diverse thinking, we must get better at being together with our complexity and variety.

Before us lived explorers of inner and outer space, exalted heroes who risked and reached into the unknown to discover, invent, create – Livingston, Pascal, Einstein, Freud, Amstrong, King.  To these leaders, “unknown” is not devoid of danger, only it is more than dangerous.  Unknown is replete with possibility; and it beckons.

From troglodyte to upright man, let’s have a look at a new way to approach conflict. And who we are called to be in order to do so.

Conflict unusual (A New Way)

How can we find common ground and a way towards one another?  Through our individuality, our specificity, our detail. When we turn towards our complexities, the multifacetedness of each of us, we gain ground for understanding. As a practice, we are tasked to return again and again to the appreciation of the other as up against his own conflicts, challenges, history, biases. This requires adopting a new way of relating — one of curiosity and interest in the other.

First we must notice and challenge the inherent tendency to oversimplify and begin to lean into our own and the other’s intricacies.  We must begin to turn towards the details.  This creates an environment of curiosity and possibility.  It signals our biological systems to re-incorporate our developed minds  — the bits of us that are curious, interested and adept at problem-solving.  Our more evolved, expanded humanity can handle conflict differently.

Exploration and creation are of course higher up on the evolutionary and developmental pyramid (see Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) than surviving (think huddling together to stay warm and eating uncooked meat off the bone of prehistoric mammals). While conflict itself reduces us to the latter, we must strive towards the former.

Make way for resolution, literally, pave the way by adopting the kind of understanding for the other necessary to progress towards resolution.  We must hold ourselves and the other differently. Instead of reducing and diminishing the other, we might:

  • Open to one another’s inherent intricacies;
  • Nurture any strand of curiosity and interest;
  • Cultivate willingness to learn about the other’s beliefs and viewpoint;
  • Distinguish between exploring the other and any other action – (e.g. to influence, change, shape, persuade).
  • Invite the experience of the other as a never-before-visited foreign city, a work of art.

When we change focus to view the other not through a sniper’s scope but through a microscope, what we can see changes immediately. If g-d is in the details, so perhaps is our likeness to g-d. Perhaps one another’s details are how we can connect and ourselves be more g-dlike and less warlike.

Expecting each other’s complexity is anathema to minimizing the other into mere representation and presumed threat. When the other is not reduced to threat, he is a prism of the recognizable and the undiscovered.


When we change focus to view the other not through a sniper’s scope but through a microscope, what we can see changes immediately. If g-d is in the details, so perhaps is our likeness to g-d. Perhaps one another’s details are how we can connect and ourselves be more g-dlike and less warlike.


In his 1855 poem Song of Myself (Leaves of Grass), Whitman famously wrote: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” To find our way towards one another, particularly while in conflict, we do well to regard both ourselves and one another as large and multifaceted. Full of grandness, spirit, and fragility; full of contradiction and complexity.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Walt Whitman

Rachel Alexander

 

Rachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group

(908) 310-3397‬

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