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Transforming Conflict Attitudes

December 31, 2008

On Sunday, a group of 25 senior citizens gathered to watch a 1934 movie about a family torn apart by conflict between a mother we’ll call M and her daughter-in-law we can call S. Over 15 years of the story, the rift got deeper and uglier, until the 13 year old grandson reached out to his grandmother and brought her together with his mother and father we’ll call Y, at his birthday party. My role at the gathering was to facilitate the post-movie discussion.

We began by asking who in the audience blamed the mother M, who blamed the daughter-in-law S, who blamed the son Y, who blamed S’s mother CD,  who blamed S’s father J. Once the votes were in, we began the conflict analysis of reasons underlying the characters’ motivations.

The defenders of M pointed out that she was a single mother who loved her son Y, and wanted S to be a good wife to him. M gave Y a secure life and S was ungrateful. Defenders of S argued that M was overbearing and would not allow S to be mistress of her own home. Defenders of CD contended that she was just trying to stand up for her daughter S when M was trying to control everyone’s life. Defenders of Y explained he was not weak, but was simply torn between his love for his wife S and his mother M. Defenders of J said he was just goofy but did not mean any harm.

As we discussed the characters’ inner lives and reasons for acting as they did, we saw the parallels to our own lives and how we assume others’ intentions are good or bad according to our own beliefs. When we worked to understand each characters’ intentions, motives, reasoning and emotions, we became less blaming and judgmental, and became more tolerant and compassionate. By the end of the discussion, we agreed there was more than enough blame to go around, but each character was simply trying to do the best he or she could under the circumstances.

After that, the audience had no accusations left for the character they had once voted was the villain of the movie. Now, can we apply this exercise of compassionate listening to our own lives and conflicts? 2009 will be more peaceful if we can.

Filed Under: Conflict Competence      

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