Building the Beloved community

Today I felt inspired by the brawl that nearly broke out at the last college women's soccer game I attended. The King Center, an archive of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., provides a list of terms associated with Dr. King's many sermons.

AGAPE – Overflowing unconditional love for all, including adversaries, needed for nonviolent conflict-resolution. Dr. King called it “love in action…love seeking to preserve and create community…love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative.”

BELOVED COMMUNITY - ...a society of justice, peace and harmony which can be achieved through nonviolence.The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of a beloved community."

This beloved community was non-existent when exhibit A told exhibit B's wife to "f--- off" to which exhibit B climbed down the bleachers, grabbed exhibit A's shirt collar and emitted heavy threats before intervention stopped the two more-than-middle-aged hooligans. 

Why did this exchange transpire this way? Psychologist Susan Heitler says in an article for Psychology Today that "bickering, arguing or getting insistent about your point of view indicate someone who is unskilled at handling conflicts in a collaborative way." This definitely isn't the only instance of conflict resolution gone wrong, maybe our society has lost the skill set required to effectively communicate during disagreements.

What is our modern-day method of resolution? Does it work? 

So often it seems that well placed blame is more sought after and more celebrated than a well thought out solution. We approach problems as if the answer only belongs to one specific system of beliefs. That results in a black and white environment of I'm right and you're wrong. This attitude limits our problem solving potential because it eliminates a whole body of possible answers. No one wants to acknowledge a good solution that comes from an opposing party because that admits defeat, and so self-proclaimed morals are preserved at the price of progressive decisions. 

In a much shorter sentence, pride makes us blind.

Susan Heitler continues in her article about conflict resolution, particularly the often ignored step of "exploration of the underlying concerns" that ought to take place after recognizing the problem, and before finding the solution. She says:

If either person is interested in WINNING instead of in learning each other’s concerns for the benefit of both of you, the process [of resolution] will abort. 

Similarly, if either party listens to the other with a goal of proving “I am right and you are wrong,” the discussion will turn turbulent and end prematurely.  The impulse to win by causing the other to lose is like boulders in a stream of water; it blocks the flow and causes turbulence. 

If we approach problems like we approach sports, there will always be a winner and always be a loser, and there will always be resentment and biased anger. That is a result of competition. She goes on.

Another requirement is a belief that mutually gratifying solutions can be found; without this belief the attempt to create solutions never gets launched. 

(Do we even have hope anymore that solutions can be found? If not, that's tragic.)

What's vital on the listening end is that we learn to listen seriously to our own wishes and concerns, and also to hear the wishes and underlying concerns of others.  I call that dual ability bilateral listening, that is, two-sided listening. Bilateral listening is a hallmark of personal maturity because it enables people to create solutions that encompass the concerns of both participants. 

It stings to hear that people who fight instead of resolve are immature. I feel it. 

I can't help but think of the current state of our governing political system. In a perfect world I would eliminate the concept of a political party, because a party imitates a sports team which implies the above downward spiral of win, lose, resent, hate, exhibit A and B trying to start a fist fight in a bleacher full of infants and pregnant women trying not to pee their pants.

While there are many things in sports that we shouldn't use as a model of proper interaction, there are valuable lessons to be learned from them. At least that's what my mom always said.

These sports psychologists talk about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation in athletes. Intrinsic is achievement based, the outcome is motivated by internal enjoyment and satisfaction. This is the motivation that sports psychologists tries to promote in their athletes. Extrinsic is based on obtaining awards and avoiding punishments. These athletes compete with and define themselves in relation to others as opposed to intrinsic comparing my previous effort with my current one. 

Now transfer that attitude to everything else in life. Intrinsically motivated people bounce back from mistakes, work harder, and aren't affected by the performance of others. They find joy in getting better. Extrinsically motivated people are basing their satisfaction on how they rank compared to others. They are either better or worse then the next guy. More or less skilled, more or less capable, more or less right. This is an attitude cultivated by many factors in our society, grading systems, playing time in sports, income disparities, feeling that you need a boat cause the neighbor has one. 

Even in sports where everything goes this is recognized as a negative attribute, so why is it so predominant in everything else? How many times as an athlete are you told to leave it all on the field, because actually that sort of behavior in any other environment isn't really healthy? If this is how you approach life, get help. I suffered (and still do) for years from extrinsic-based motivation. Maybe it's melodramatic of me, but I believe it's a disease that requires treatment. I realize that nothing is black and white, and that applies here, but still stick with my guns on this one. This article is interesting and somewhat relevant, and maybe helpful.

I think as we recognize extrinsic influences, and try to change our approach to what we deem as success, we will have more harmonious and fulfilling lives.

This brings families, athletes, governing bodies, businesses, etc. back to good communication 101. Using "I" statements that force you to consider why you think what you do rather than why what the other person thinks is wrong. Listening and considering the needs of the other person. Valuing those needs. Avoiding "you never's" and replacing them with "I want to's". Ultimately, we have to be comfortable with communicating clearly our "why", and likewise respect that the other person has an equally important and valid "why". 

Exhibit A and exhibit B need to realize that they both value their team because they know one of the players or have seen every one of the games. They are invested in their team's success and concerned for their safety. The team's victories are their victories, the team's losses their losses. They actually have the exact same why and really, in the end, ought to be friends.