As a retired Major of the Pennsylvania State Police, Major Ben Brooks has seen and learned a lot about working with people. In a recent adult education forum at Saint Luke, Major Ben examined how we interact with each other and how we can overcome negative attitudes that limit performance and hinder our relationships. He asked forum attendees a simple question:
For some it may seem difficult to think of such an occurrence, yet the truth of the matter is that diversity, inclusion and bias impact us all. It is not just about differences of race but any aspect that makes people different- age, gender, abilities, etc. It can take many different faces, but the result is almost always pain, brokenness, and conflict.
We can model Christ-like behavior to affect the culture around us. Similar to Jesus, we live in a world with raising temperatures of division and conflict. Thankfully, we have the ability to set the thermostat to a place of peace, understanding, and inclusion.
Here are a few ways to bring the temperature of a potentially explosive situation down a few degrees:
Look for the why- Often in conflict, we start with gloves on, full of anger, and ready to defend ourselves. Yet, to lower the temperature, we need to start with empathy. If we cannot understand where people are coming from, it is going to lead to continued problems. We must react to situations not based only on what we see, but we must look beyond the surface for the “why.” Often times, the reason for a person’s behavior will give you insight into the best solution.
Check your baggage- Often times our opinions of people are based on past experience and these unconscious biases can affect behavior. Yes, you may have had a negative experience with “this or that type” of person before, but no two people are the same. Take some time to reflect on your experiences and heal. If you continue to find yourself in conflict being fueled by your baggage, consider talking to a wise friend or therapist. Do the work to check your baggage, you will be lighter. You’ll be glad you did.
Choose your words wisely- Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18). Inflammatory words can raise the temperature of conflict, inflicting pain, spreading judgement, and leaving wounds. Yet, when chosen wisely, words heal. We can use words to calm a hostile situation, words to encourage the insecure, and words to invite others into relationship.
Reframe the goal- As we navigate conflict, we must remember that unlike other “fights” there are not two opponents. With the goal of setting the thermostat to peace, we also join hands with those on the other side. No longer are we battling against one another, but instead we are collaboratively working together for the benefit of both. With the goal of peace and of honoring the humanity of those we encounter, we find that strangers become friends and enemies become teammates.
May we all search past the surface, live with light hearts, medicate with our words, and find ourselves together, enjoying the temperature of peace.
Special thanks to Marcia Skoglund for her contributions to this post. Marcia helps coordinate and plan adult education at Saint Luke.