Seeing the equal human in front of you

two origami cranes talking

People who act badly in conflict are not broken. In a culture where problem-solving and fixing are highly valued, I fear that we too often take aim at our fellow humans with the same orientation as we do a broken bicycle or an ineffective policy. We roll up our figurative sleeves and get to work on fixing whatever we think ails them.

When someone is acting badly in conflict, there are so many more compassionate ways to respond. It turns out that they’re also far more effective, too. In such moments, I try to…

  • Notice the equal human in front of me, that human who is as perfect and flawed as I, though perhaps in very different ways.
  • Remember that no one gets out of bed in the morning and says, “Today I want to act badly in front of my boss / friend / spouse / mediator / town clerk / [fill in the blank].” Almost everyone gets out of bed planning to get through their day with as much grace as they can muster at any given moment.
  • Resist the temptation to feel superior, because some other time, it may be I who cannot muster as much grace as I wish.
  • Resist the temptation to diagnose their flaws. Diagnosing can be an act of arrogance born of too many pop-psych books on the shelf.
  • Remember that yelling at and yelling toward are different from one another, and yelling toward is much more common an act. Sometimes loudness is a cry out to the universe to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be understood.
  • Recall that anger can be a gift between friends.

Next time someone acts badly, let’s bite the tsk tsk on our tongues, see them for the equal human they are, and resist the urge to fix. Let’s just be with them, a non-judgmental presence filled with compassion.

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