I think it is easy to discover the generalized principles of achieving and maintaining Peace by repeatedly and carefully examining the success, struggles, or resignation of married or committed couples. I define Peace as a state of living in a realistic, reliable community that values safety, membership, and integrity for all members.
I have found three ways of responding to the challenge: two lead to War and one to Peace.
MOVE TOWARD WAR: Line 1 or 2
The two methods, so common in our culture, are to encourage the expression of one point of view and to simultaneously suppress the sharing of other points of view. This can be done consciously or unconsciously, overtly or subtly. A kind of peace is achieved by collaboration in a kind of agreement. I like to think of this as an ideology – everyone saying they agree with one person’s ideas. The collaboration of agreement is achieved by managing threat. Essentially a leader speaks one point of view and the others are quiet. When the position of leader is not as yet defined by the group, then individuals contest for that position overtly using various levels of threat.
These strategies have a significant advantage: they provide for quick decision making. Their disadvantages are severe instability due to hidden agendas, the cost of all the threatening behaviors to community calmness, the lack of community attractiveness due to Win-Lose strategies.
MOVE TOWARD PEACE: Line 3
The third response to the challenge of the existence of differing points of view is not as common in our culture. This involves the encouragement of the sharing of all points of view.
This strategy has significant advantages. The stability of the community is maintained by excluding hidden agendas. Community calmness is maintained by avoiding the conscious or unconscious use of threat. Community attractiveness is created by providing for Win-Win solutions to every problem.
However, there are significant disadvantages. Decision making can be very long and arduous. And, for many people, the lack of clear definitions of “right and wrong” can be uncomfortable.
For an in-depth discussion of these differences see my essay on Master/Slave.
I’d like to review each line and to give more specifics about the processes I see are involved.
LINE ONE: EXTINGUISH THE DIFFERENCES
I’ve learned that this line starts with a predisposition to avoid disagreement. This is a posture of Emotional Symbiosis. However they have learned this, both members seem to believe that there is a “right point of view” which is external to them. Often each person’s sense of self-worth seems connected to the idea of being in alignment with what is “right”. I’ve found they easily get into distress when they hear of disagreement. “Perhaps I am wrong!” As they are each trying to have the “right point of view,” they have more or less confidence in their opinion. I experience that people on this line will approach each other on a continuum.
I’ve noticed that, believing in their ability to grasp and possess objective truth, they speak in MasterTalk. I define MasterTalk as any sentence that implies there is an objective truth.
“It is hot.”“It is the highest level of insult.”
“This is the truth.”
“It’s just common sense.”
“I don’t know what is right.”
Each sentence seems to me to imply that a fact is present.
“It is objectively hot. All humans would agree on this.”
“This is an insult. Everyone would agree, and all people would agree it is the highest level of insult.”
“All humans will agree with this being the truth.”
“All people agree on what common sense is. Come on!”
“I personally don’t know the correct thing here, but I know there is a correct thing. You tell me.”
What I found is that MasterTalk statements (consciously or not) contain threat and clearly signal the presence of threat to anyone who disagrees. “If you don’t think it is hot, you’ve got a fight on your hands with me.” I’ve also found that MasterTalk indirectly communicates threat to anyone listening, even if they happen to agree at the moment to the subject on hand. MasterTalk seems to be about keeping people in line and obedient.
And MasterTalk seems so easy to see and define (and deal with).
In the next step along Line One are the verbal habits of interrupting and arguing. Interruption seems to involve listening until I have something to say and then stopping you in mid-sentence or mid-point. I’ve found that interrupting seems very common and on the receiving end involves a felt sense of shock, and confrontation.
I’ve found that most people do not speak in sentences. They actually are trying to make a point. A point often involves say, 4 to 18 sentences. I think of a point as always understandable, as it always contains a “whole segment” of the sender’s sense at the moment. The phrase “whole segment” suggests for me that the speaker may be content to finish when they have said these phrases or sentences, yet the sense, the logic, of the sender may extend beyond those phrases. It may seem “whole” from the point of the view of the sender, but only a segment from the point of view of their partner who is trying to understand. “I want you to pick it up on the way home,” says my wife and she feels finished. However, I would sure like her to add what “it” means before I try to get “it”.
Normal conversation along Line One seems to involve many interruptions.
Arguing is simply the act of two people who simultaneously think their point of view is the “right one” and who are trying to “win” by getting the other to be quiet. I often call this “success by silence”, or “I win if you shut up.” Arguing seems such an addictive process. The taste of getting others to be quiet, to give in, seems so good. Of course, the other’s opinion is not gone. It is now just temporarily out of view. Arguing contains many more or less strong threats. And if threats don’t work in getting that sense of “win” for one person’s point of view, then physical violence comes next.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE/SOCIAL BRAWLING
The point I want to make here is that physical violence seems to be a simple shift from arguing to more intensity. Arguing seems to me to be the verbal form of physical violence. They both have the same goal: the success of one point of view by the extinguishing of another. I have never witnessed an incident of domestic violence that did not begin in an argument. I have never seen an incident of physical violence in public that did not start with something like, “How dare you say that!” Bamm!
And the other point I want to make is that I believe that any group or society that admires argument, lives on the edge of physical violence. To me “arguing” is more a precursor of violence than are depictions of violence in the media. The media just shares examples of how to argue at that higher level of intensity – violence.
WAR / KILLING
To me, these are logical extensions of actions that began with MasterTalk. If my goal is to extinguish your opinion, and arguing doesn’t work, and hitting doesn’t work, how about killing?
LINE TWO: HIDE THE DIFFERENCES
This line seems to me just a variant on Line One. I’ve learned it starts with the same predisposition to avoid disagreement. While each person seems to be trained in Emotional Symbiosis, one leans strongly toward avoiding confrontation or conflict. I watch them listening to their partner’s MasterTalk and nodding quietly. It is the posture of the “yes man” in a corporation or of the quiet yielding wife. This seems all about submission, and “not upsetting anyone.” It seems to me the core of Political Correctness. And it seems all about hiding different points of view and of being silent.
It looks like Peace, but I don’t think it is. I’ve learned that submission is a two step process. Step 1 the submission. Step 2 the resentment and/or eventually the revenge. The United States was founded by the expressed resentment, the rebellion, the revolution of the colonists who were no longer going to submit. Line Two seems like a peaceful time before the next outburst of arguing => violence => WAR.
LINE THREE: RELAX WITH THE DIFFERENCES
This line starts with a completely different orientation, a predisposition toward sharing different points of view and toward protecting their existence and expression. I find no Emotional Symbiosis here. This path seems full of curiousity, patience, open-mindedness. It also seems full of respect for the other, rather than fear of the other. If I were to put this into human terms, this seems like the normal behavior of children who are curious with the unknown “other”, combined with the maturity of the elder who is durably able to see lots of points of view. I like to think of this as getting a wide view of the world by seeing through many eyes, not just your own.
The first step along this line seems a successful attitude toward others. PreValidation is the habit of believing that a person makes sense before they open their mouths – that a person’s sense is part of their integrity and their congruence with who they currently are. All persons make sense all the time.
This seems to be a major shift from thinking that “rightness” is possess-able and “I have it”, to awareness that “rightness” is appreciated differently by everyone and “let’s share our unique ways of appreciating it.”
Probably the first thing I see that is different in this Third Line is the skills of respectful listening. I believe you are “listening successfully” at that point where someone feels heard. I believe you are “listening durably” when you signal that you can listen to anything and still remain curious. As I think respectful listening is not very well taught, people can use a training tool. My favorite listening training tool is Mirroring, as taught in Imago Relationship Therapy. I have found this tool to fairly quickly align the listener with a talker in the proper position for successful listening.
A critical portion of this skill is developing patience when another person starts to speak. Basically I believe that whenever a person starts to speak, they are beginning to share a story about themselves. That story, their point, may be long or short or however long, and your job is to relax into listening until the end. Patience is an adult skill, worth learning.
My experience is that people tend to raise their voices or even yell, when they expect that no one will listen. Thus clear and active listening, and Mirroring is an example of this, has for me become a keynote way of keeping people calm as they share even their passion. My experience is that if Mirroring is difficult or if you won’t do it, you are probably somewhere along Lines One or Two. If you enjoy Mirroring, then you are probably well along Line Three.
I think you are “listening thoroughly” when you have developed the habits of not only not interrupting, but of inviting people to complete and fill in details of the point they are trying to make. I have found that people need to be invited, regularly, to share all their thinking. Nothing seems to work better than “asking” in a curious way and then delighting in whatever is shared. This seems particularly useful as this is frequently a time when, having a different opinion, you might tend to interrupt or argue. “Please tell me more about that. A lot more!”
More than being heard, people need to feel understood, both in their thinking and their feelings. I think of this event as an emotion –feeling understood. It seems to involve a deep body sensation of relaxing. Validation is a term I use to describe whatever it is you do, that makes a person feel understood. If they don’t feel understood, you aren’t validating. I believe that most people have a deep fear that because they are different, because they see things differently, that someone will hurt them. I think this fear typically comes from being born in a family which uses Line One or Line Two most of the time – which uses threat. For most people the experience of feeling understood is very refreshing and eventually becomes strongly desired. Whenever I have created a group where people feel understood all the time, people don’t want to end the group.
The skill of Validating arises from the skill of Understanding which arises from Listening plus PreValidating. Basically to Validate someone you must verbally or non-verbally show that you grasp the other person’s sense – their logic, their emotions. I call this “bearing witness to their sense,” and since all people make sense all the time, then you can always Validate someone if a) they will share their sense with you and b) you will listen.
Put these points all together and you have Empathy for your neighbor. The best definition of Empathy is “to relate to the inner world of another while knowing that it is not your world.” This means for me that one person knows that they probably won’t agree with anything they hear, in detail, and that is ok.
TAKING TURNS: SHARING THE SPACE
A critical component of Line Three is that ability to make things seem fair. I define a situation as “fair” when all people concurrently think it is fair. This is a world of Win-Win, and thus both or all people get to share. In the pursuit of fairness, people often resort to doing things equally. I haven’t experienced that as particularly “fair”. If you put a watermelon and a dish of chocolate ice cream on the table between my wife and I, and then split each into equal portions for us, both of us would feel cheated. She doesn’t like the ice cream and I am not too fond of watermelon. Going for equal is a good try.
A better way is to develop the habit of taking turns. Flip a coin and one person goes first.
So look for yourself. Which path works. Anything along Line 1 or Line 2, I believe, will lead away from Peace. Learning the skills of Line 3 works. What I find ironic is that most people I meet who say they are working on Peace, anger management training, domestic violence treatment, believe in arguing as a way to go. No wonder it doesn’t work!
Teaching dialogical skills, and the only way you learn them is when you need them, seems to me the way to go. You can learn these in many programs for couples. No institution faces this War and Peace decision as often as a committed couple.
But the primary skills of Peace Making are the ability to recognize the actions in Line 1 or Line 2 and to shift to Line 3 as soon as possible.