How I got into this work of Peace...

Imagine that two high school students had just been in a fight.  The Principal sends them into the room with you, rolls his eyes and wishes you luck.  They are livid.  The feeling of anger and hostility in the room are palpable.  It’s times like those, of which I’ve had hundreds, that I have a moment of doubt and wonder how this can ever work out.  I let them each talk about what led up to hurting each other.  I am calm.  I am firm. I ask a lot of questions and clarify things I’m not sure about.  I ask about their history together, and that’s when it all turns around.  They remember the good times and laugh, breaking the thick feeling in the room, offering us all relief.  I allow the camaraderie to re-emerge, then bring them back to the issues they were having so we can write an agreement.  When we leave the room two hours later, each student is smiling and waving a written agreement around, greeting the Principal with it energetically.  His jaw drops and he looks at me, amazed.  That day, the lives of two students were changed for the better. 

The Principal sang my praises for years to come.  He continued to refer students to mediation instead of suspension as often as he could.  This story, for me, is about the Principal, and his choice to see the power of peace work over punishment.

I believe that when we take intentional action in times of conflict, we can bring about positive growth in our lives, our relationships and the world.  Most of my career has involved working with teenagers in a variety of environments.  When I became a trained mediator, I had the opportunity to work with teens in this new capacity.  I recall telling the Youth Mediation Director at the Center where I was trained that I’d love to have her job one day!  A few years later, she called me to say that her position was available.  Soon after, I was offered my dream job as the Director of Youth Mediation.  I felt fortunate to work for a non-profit organization who partnered with the Juvenile Court, mental health system, and public-schools where kids were often under-served and had little resources.  Getting a glimpse into each of those systems was eye-opening and educational; I began to understand the underlying issues within these government structures that were designed to support kids and families.

When I had my child in 2015, I left the non-profit environment to create my own business.  I’m now working toward change in environments that have great influence for our future generations.  I have just submitted my application for a Rotary International Peace Fellowship.  This is a full-ride Masters Degree Program that will take me and my family overseas for 2 years beginning in 2018 or 2019 (depending on where we get placed).  The potential for expanding my knowledge and examining the process of policy-influence at state and national levels that is offered through the Rotary Peace Fellowship is deeply appealing to me.  I am excited to pursue my passion of creating peace, both at the individual level and on a global scale. 

Gentle Reminder about The Golden Rule

During this Holiday season, many different religions celebrate with traditions, family and as much joy as possible.  There is often also a sense of stress, expectations and turmoil that can surround the Holidays.  Whatever your religion may be, or not be, we are at least all humans.  One of the most fundamental concepts for celebrating your deep humanity is to abide by The Golden Rule.  Wikipedia does a good job of explaining it, saying, “The Golden Rule or ethic of reciprocity is a moral maxim or principle of altruism found in nearly every human culture and religion, suggesting it is related to a fundamental human nature”

One part of this concept that is commonly mis-understood, is that it can go the other way.  Many believe that they should treat others the way they are treated by others, and this can easily go downhill.  I have often seen while working in the world of conflict resolution, that this concept is commonly one of the underlying issues found in the history of troubled relationships.  The ethic of the Golden Rule is to treat others the way you want to be treated, REGARDLESS of how they treat you.  When we use the rule as a form of revenge, it is no longer serving its original intent.

So, what does this revenge look like?  Someone is rude to you, so you are rude back.  Someone hurts you, so you hurt them back.  Someone does something that effects your day for the negative, so you can easily justify not caring about their well-being.  You get the picture…

So, what does it look like to practice The Golden Rule in its truest form?  Someone is rude to you, and you remain respectful.  Someone hurts you and you do your best to understand them and help them despite their actions.  Someone effects your day negatively and you continue to value them as a person and even try to see where they are hurting.  Got it?

Here’s another thought:

 “Love one another and you will be happy.  It’s as simple and as difficult as that.”  -Michael Leunig.  

Sometimes the people in our lives who are the hardest to love are the ones who need to be loved the most.  When we understand that people who are hurting us, are generally only doing so because of their own pain, it is easier to have compassion and love for them.

As the Buddha says, “Holding on to anger is like eating poison and expecting the other person to die.”  In this season of love, stress, peace, heartache, compassion, turmoil and deeper understanding, let us all follow the Golden Rule as it was intended and be genuinely good to others because we want to, not because we expect something from them.

Happy Holidays!

8 tips for Surviving Political Conversations with family, post-election 2016!

These last few weeks have been filled with a lot of arguing, disagreement and often a sense of distancing from those who we disagree with, especially post-election 2016.  Our family tends to be the place where we aren’t inside of the “echo-chamber” of social media, since we didn’t choose who to be related to.  We often surround ourselves with like-minded folks, and with the holidays upon us, there are going be a lot of opportunities to be surrounded by differently-minded folks.  If you happen to be 100% politically aligned with all of your close and extended family, then you are likely an anomaly this year, and this article may not be for you.

There are likely to be opportunities to talk politics while visiting with family over the holidays, and many activists are encouraging these conversations in order to heal the divide in the country, to be vigilant in maintaining human and environmental rights, and to help family members challenge assumptions they have made about each other as a result of their candidate choices.  Here are a few tips for surviving the holidays outside of the echo-chamber.

1.       Decide before you go…   Am I willing and ready to engage my family in political conversations?  If not, then have a few strategies to use in case you need to excuse yourself from the conversations if they do arise.  You can be as direct as, “I’m just not willing or able to have a civil conversation about this with you.” Or you could use the “pivot” method:  “That’s an interesting question, will you please pass the mashed potatoes?”  or “I don’t know about that, but I do know that this pumpkin pie is going to be incredible!”  If you don’t think you’re slick enough to distract with other topics of food or life, then feel free to excuse yourself to the bathroom or to help clean up the kitchen.  If you are willing and able to have conversations about politics with your family, then keep reading.

2.       Check in with yourself about your intention.  Family arguments often come from a very real difference of deep values.  These values have been formed over a lifetime and don’t generally change after an argument over the homemade stuffing.  For example, no one has ever stopped being a racist or whiny just because you called them a “racist” or “crybaby”, or calmed down just because you told them to.  This type of labeling or demanding often only evokes defensiveness and tends to further drive home the values held by others because they feel the need to prove their beliefs. If your true intention is to seek to change these deep held values and beliefs in someone, then try sharing your experience, only speaking for yourself.  Try listening and reflecting what you are hearing without judgement.  When others hear their own words reflected to them, it is easier for them to change their own view.  Having a willingness to change is the first step, and this willingness is not produced through insults, defensiveness or threats.  This goes for yourself as well.  If you aren’t willing to see things differently than you already do, it isn’t reasonable to expect that from others.  This doesn’t mean that you are expected to change your morality, it’s simply saying that you are able to see things from a different viewpoint. Take intentional action towards supporting your beliefs, and realize that it’s your own decision to do so, while also understanding that others don't mean you harm just because they have different priorities than you.

3.       Seek to understand and be understood:  Speaking with a respectful tone, using calm and neutral language and seeking clarity is how conflicts resolve.  When you are speaking respectfully, it is more likely that you will be spoken to respectfully.  If you are truly trying to understand someone else’s point of view, you will be truly listening and reflecting what you are hearing and understanding before you are responding with your own ideas.  There’s also nothing wrong with setting up some basic boundaries with your family before you get too far into a conversation.  Try saying something like, “I’d truly like to understand where you are coming from, and hopefully explain where I am coming from.  Can we promise to stay respectful of each other while we talk about this?”

4.       Recognize that emotions cannot be wrong.  Your feelings are always valid, and other people’s feelings are valid as well.  It’s the responses to how we or others feel that can make or break a resolution to conflict.  We are often frustrated when others say they are angry or sad about something we said or did, and we wish they wouldn’t feel that way.  You aren’t in control of anyone’s emotions other than your own.  It’s okay to name this, and express your hopes.  “I wish that what I said hadn’t upset you, and I think I understand why you are upset.” Then try explaining the “why.”  If you don’t really understand, then practice some very basic empathy.  Brene Brown does a great job in this video of explaining empathy.

5.       Use valid information to explain your beliefs.  We live in the information age.  In fact, this is probably the 4th or 5th article you’ve read just today, if not more!  We watch videos, listen to podcasts, read articles, watch TV, and absorb so many more media inputs.  There are many opinion pieces out there, and when you align with an opinion piece, ask yourself why you align and speak from that place.  If you are citing a factual analysis, a news report, etc..  Then take 30 seconds to use PolitiFact, Snopes, or any number of fact checking websites to be sure that you are receiving the most well balanced information to talk about, and also that support your beliefs effectively.  Also, be open to being corrected by family members and asking them more about why they believe what they do.  Too often, we find ourselves ready to dismiss the feelings or fact-checking of those that we feel to be “on the other side” because we assume they don’t hurt the way we do, or that they are lying - simply because it doesn’t align with what we already know or believe.

6.       Avoid being too intoxicated.  We know that sometimes “a little too much” can turn into a messy scene, especially when politics are on the table.  If you are choosing to engage in drinking or drug use during your holiday festivities, think about how this can affect your ability to follow some of this advice..  If you’re too intoxicated to drive, you’re probably too intoxicated to talk politics.

7.       Find common ground.  There's a lot to feel divided about right now, and there are a lot of opportunities to find things in common.  If you are able to break bigger ideas down to some base values, you may find that you are much more in line than you originally thought.  Sometimes, we just disagree on the best way to live and support those values, and not as much that the values are all that different.  Finding every opportunity to agree throughout a difficult political discussion can really break down barriers to communication and understanding.  A few things you may all agree about:  You appreciate the opportunity to live in a country where free speech is legal.  You think there are some issues with the way the government has been run in the past.  You really wished that you had one candidate to vote for that aligned with all of your values, not just some.  Etc…

8.       Remember that you are family.  These people are and will be a part of your life in some way, for the rest of your life.  You have an opportunity to truly bond and enjoy conversations with them.  You do not have to agree with them to have love for them.  Certainly, disagreement does not have to equal hatred. 

Happy Holidays! 

Girl Drama and the power of Forgiveness

Conflict is inevitable, it happens for each of us daily, and whether we like it or not it can be a catalyst for long lasting change in our lives. Wouldn't it be great if we were able to be proactive and participate intentionally in that change?  When we think of something as an opportunity, we get excited and hopeful.  It makes it easier to move into a place of resolution through empathy and logic when we have a deeper understanding and our responses are not purely driven by our raw emotion.  Emotional reactions alone tend to see rippling consequences: lost relationships and any number of missed opportunities for positive growth.

When I was in middle school I ended up being drawn quite deeply into what we called "Girl Drama".  Through this experience I chose one friend over another.  My friend, Niki, was who I rejected.  We had been friends since kindergarten, and she had been one of the most important people in my life.  In one moment of high conflict in my life, I made decisions that haunted me for years.  It haunted her too, and our relationship became strained.  We did later regain our friendship, though we ignored the rift that had been caused by our "Girl Drama" in middle school.  It always haunted us in the back of our minds while we were carrying on with high school and college.  When she was 26 years old, Niki was diagnosed with stage 4 Ovarian Cancer.  It is an aggressive disease that she fought hard over the course of 2 years.  During this time, we became even closer, and during one of my visits to her while she was in the hospital, I brought up the topic of our "girl drama" from middle school.  We were both obviously uncomfortable talking about it again, and more regretful and hurt than we imagined that we would be, since, well, it had been 15 years!  Nonetheless, I had my opportunity to apologize to her, and she was able to forgive me.  It was a bigger weight than either of us thought it would be that had been lifted.  And within that year, she died.  

That I was able to have a final resolution and forgiveness from her was a valuable gift.  I like to think that it was helpful for her too.  I do know that we loved each other and felt good that we were able to say goodbye with more clarity about our love for each other.  But we also lost some things in that 15 years of silence and avoidance.  We lost the chance to know each other more deeply.  To influence each other and be in community.  I lost the opportunity to know her as an emerging artist, a fierce friend and vulnerable and genuine person.  Not all was lost, we did reconnect.  But I will never get back that time I lost with her because of a deeply and soley emotional reaction.  

I began my career path working with teenagers, and when I became a mediator, I was again, drawn to working with teens and their peers.  I did, in fact, become a professional in the world of "girl drama".  It sounds funny to us as adults, but "Girl Drama" or any "teen drama"  and how it's handled, creates deep beliefs and can have lasting impacts on our kids emotional growth and function in society.  A big reason, that I realized later, for my draw to helping teens deal with their conflicts came from my own experience in middle school with Niki.  If I had had the knowledge then that our conflict had been an opportunity to know each other more deeply, instead of being pulled apart, I would be an even more whole person today for knowing her.

Thank You Niki.  I love you. 


Understanding our Responses to conflict: Passive, Aggressive and Assertive

You have read that I believe that all conflict in our world can be traced back to three main roots:  Limited Resources, Unmet Basic Needs and Different Values.  See my very first blog for a review here.

If you are at all interested in better communication and effective listening strategies, then you have likely heard about the three basic responses to conflict: Passive, Aggressive or Assertive.

The differences in our responses are defined by how we effect the resources, basic needs and values for ourselves and for the people with whom we are in conflict.  We can guide our responses by our intentions and what we hope the end result of the conflict will be.

A Passive response generally looks like avoiding or denying a conflict in your life.  Many people believe that in order to avoid being Aggressive, or violent with their body or words, that they must be Passive.  How this results is that yours, the other persons or both of your resources, basic needs and values are not being met or are being compromised.  Sometimes this feels like a survival technique, which it may very well be, depending on your situation.  It is important to remember that survival doesn't mean that all of your needs are met, it simply means you are alive and feel safe(r) in that moment.  This can lead to un-solved issues, recurring conflicts and dissatisfaction in the long-run of your relationships.

An Aggressive response means that you are doing whatever you can to make sure that your own needs are met, and usually means that the other person(s) is not getting their needs met because of your actions.  If your goal is simply to protect your resources, meet your own needs and defend your own values then you may trend towards an aggressive response to conflict. It looks like the "Fight" response, in a "fight or flight" scenario, and generally holds some of the longest-lasting consequences in your relationships.

An Assertive response to conflict is characterized by putting every effort to preserve resources, meet needs and keep intact the values for all parties involved.  When you see the reality of this, it can be much easier to work towards a resolution that will satisfy all people involved in a conflict.  It can take time, effort and seeking to understand to be sure that all the elements for each individual are being preserved.  This is the kind of response to conflict that can be sustainable, create more understanding and prevent escalating long-term discomforts in our relationships.  

It's important to know that every conflict is unique and that no one response is always an available option.  It is also important to understand that your intentions can guide your responses if you simply check in with yourself.  Is my hope to "win" no matter what?  Is my hope to just get through this so I don't have to deal in this moment?  Do I want to find lasting resolution and make sure everyone involved is taken care of?  Take a moment the next time you encounter some kind of conflict (probably sometime today!) and check your intentions. See if you can recognize your own roots of this conflict and the roots for the people you are in conflict with as well.  The more often that we can protect the resources, meet the needs and respect the values of all involved, the more peaceful and understanding a world we will live in. Thanks for doing your part!

"Buts" and "Shoulds"- A piece of awareness for toning our relationships

For several years now I have been keenly aware of the uses of the terms “but” or “should” during my conversations.  It’s pretty amazing how when I cut these ideas out of my language how my understanding of others, and others trust of me expands.

Let’s start with the big “BUT.”  “I love you, but I need something different than what you’re providing.” Or “That was a good try, but you can do better.”  When we use a “but” it negates what we said before it.  It creates the sense that I know better than you and tells the person that we’re communicating with that the first part of our statement was really just meant to soften the blow of a difficult piece of feedback, and that feedback is really all we meant to deliver.  Most often, this is not our true intention.  I personally think that delivering difficult feedback comes best when it comes from a place of caring for the other person’s deepest well-being.  When we include a “but” in this feedback, it can have the effect of implying that we are only delivering this feedback to serve our own well being or goals.  In most situations replacing a “but” with an “and” can really do wonders for where our true intentions are and relay our hopes instead of just our disappointment.

Then there come the “shoulds.”  My best friend will tell you about our hilarious conversations where we ask the other not to “should all over me” < that can get messy!  When we tell someone what they “should” do, it again implies that we do not trust them to know how to do something for themselves or that I know better than they do.  I was explaining this concept to a classroom full of teachers one time and one of them said, “But I DO know better than them, and I need them to know that so they trust me as a teacher and role model.”  To this I responded, “When you tell them that you are better than them, do they still respect and trust you?” 

When trying to get a point across, incorporating a collaborative method where we help them feel empowered to know how to do things their own way is how we are creating more community who can problem solve effectively on their own.  It’s the whole “teach-a-man-to-fish” theory.  If we teach others what we think they “should” do, then they will either become our clones, or entirely reject the important information we are trying to convey.  When we are able to say things like, “If what you are trying to accomplish is____ then you can try ___” instead of “you ‘should’ _____” then it creates collaboration and mutual respect.  In working with teenagers for many years, I can honestly say that the only way I have ever been able to get a point across is through having mutual respect and understanding.   When we take the “should” out of our dialogue it relays our true intentions much more effectively.

Try it out!  Using simple language awareness to help us be inclusive to many opinions and ideas can shift others experiences of working with us, and increase effectiveness for long-term outcomes.