Meet the helpless victim and the villain. They’re in every conflict story. Now let’s edit.
When people talk about a conflict, their stories follow a remarkably predictable pattern: Poor me. He/she is so [insert unflattering description of the other person here]. And there is nothing I can do about it. In other words: That’s the villain over there, and I’m the helpless victim here.
While this narrative is comfortingly simple, there are two major problems with it: First, this conflict story closes off our creative thinking and problem-solving abilities. By telling ourselves that we’re helpless, we essentially instruct our brain to abandon the search for a solution. Second, this conflict story is usually not true. Black-and-white plots featuring one-dimensional characters are great in comic books. Real life, on the other hand, is far more complex, with lots of color and even more shades of grey.
To successfully resolve a conflict, we need to write a different conflict story. Before we even sit down in the storytelling circle to share our version of the events with an audience, we need to subject our conflict story to a brutally honest review. The authors of Crucial Conversations, a book that should be required reading for all human beings, call it “mastering your own story.” Here’s how this editing process works:
* Turn the victim into an actor. The “victim” may not be as innocent as he would like to believe. He, too, may have done or said things he would rather not remember or wishes he could take back. He may have unwittingly encouraged or enabled the offending behavior. He may have remained silent and done nothing, which can be an extremely powerful contribution to a bad situation. With a healthy dose of compassionate honesty, victims tend to morph into actors – active participants in a conflict.
* Turn the villain into a human being. The “villain” most likely is not pure evil personified. Nobody is completely devoid of good attributes. When we ask why a decent, reasonable person would act that way, we usually find benign or at least palatable explanations. We may even find that the offensive behavior had nothing to do with us. With a healthy dose of compassionate honesty, villains tend to morph into human beings, however flawed they may be.
* Nobody is helpless. Once we have made the main characters in our conflict story a bit more colorful and woven a more complex narrative, we’ve opened our mind to potential solutions. If this is the part where you claim that there are no solutions to your situation, I have good news: We always have options. We may not find any of our options particularly attractive, but the point is that there are always options. We have tools available to address any conflict and behavior. Coping with a situation, or walking away from it, are tools, too. Our job is to identify the most appropriate tools for the specific circumstances and use them effectively. And we do that by first writing a different conflict story.
Writing a different conflict story is a potent tool to open the door to peace. Try it out for yourself. Pick a conflict in your life, and see who the helpless victim in your story is, and who plays the villain. Add some twists and turns to your plot, and also show the less saint-like side of the victim and a more human side of the villain. Give your conflict story some depth, shades of grey, and splashes of color, and see how your mind opens up to new possibilities.
This post was born when I received an invitation from Melissa Dinwiddie to participate in a blog hop where various writers share their motivation and process for blogging. Before I dive into that, I’d like to give credit to Melissa for a good part of my return to creative endeavors. If you feel that any part of your professional or personal life could use some extra creative spark, try one of her courses – you’ll be glad you did.
Melissa Dinwiddie is an artist, writer, performer, inspirationalist and creativity instigator, on a mission to empower people to feed their creative hungers. She coaches and consults with individuals and groups, and leads creativity workshops and retreats in inspiring locations around the world as well as online. Melissa writes for The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha, The Abundant Artist, and others, and shares the inside scoop on living a big, bold, creative life on her own blog, Living A Creative Life, where you can get a free mini-poster of her Keys to Creative Flow and her Imperfectionist Manifesto.
Now on to my own writing:
I started this blog to contribute to a more peaceful world and to alleviate some of the human suffering arising from conflict. I believe that peace begins within each individual, so I strive to first increase my own understanding and awareness of how I interact with other people. My writing is a means to gain greater clarity on the human condition and to share insights – both my own and those of other peacemakers – with my readers.
Unlike many other bloggers in the conflict resolution field, I do not write about legal issues. My writing focuses on the human aspect of conflict, and on what each of us can do right now to make our everyday lives more harmonious, productive and fulfilling.
People who make a living with their writing claim the key to producing quality work is to simply sit down on a daily basis and write. They are absolutely right. Even if you have no ambitions to publish anything, I recommend you write on a regular basis – it’s a great way to bring out your innate wisdom and improve your quality of life. Free therapy!
Aside from writing, I also read quite a bit. Of course I read to keep up with the latest developments in my field. Equally, if not more important, I peruse what special souls have to say. Should you find yourself looking for a different perspective, check out these three bloggers and be inspired:
Ronit Fried, who provides humorous updates on the financial markets for those of us who don’t have the time or inclination to read the Wall Street Journal cover to cover. Check out her Pujonomics blog, where she underwrites the trendline for the rest of us.
If you’ve read this far, kudos to you for your way above-average attention span. Now go check out some of the writers above. Then write something yourself. Perhaps you’ll start with rewriting a conflict story.