Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Everyone Needs to Grow Up

I've had a lot of time to ponder conflict. As an attorney/mediator and soon-to-be therapist, I see a lot of conflict before my eyes. As a political junkie, I read about it constantly. As a human being, I get into conflict regularly with lovers, family, and sometimes friends. And as a meditator, I get to examine the roots of conflict intimately. 

Consider your relationships. You're fighting with someone and the narrative is stronger than ever. Like an attorney, you start to spin the facts and you might not even be aware of it. You paint yourself as the innocent victim and your partner as the malicious perpetrator of injustice. You know you're immersed in narrative when your partner accuses you of distorting some facts while neglecting others. Those are the hallmarks of narrative.

Step back and you find your politicians--local, state, and international--engaged in the same rhetorical warfare with each other. They're spinning facts to generate narratives that favor them and paint their opponent as incompetent, unjust, or untrustworthy. Russian, China, Republicans, Democrats and don't forget their PR wings: the news networks and blogger-infantry that support them and disseminate the narratives.

It's the battle of the narratives and most people are too ignorant to recognize it because they've been feeding on them for years and years. They've been operating exclusively within these narratives--battling with them, exchanging them, and refining them--in all aspects of their life, including their personal life, where narratives are born. 

Sit down to meditate for a while and you get to see how subtle conflict is. You start to see how all your attempts to control things, including your meditation, are forms of conflict disguised as lofty things like goals and aspirations. But they're really conflict; they're conflict with who you are, right now, with all your flaws, disappointments, and setbacks. Conflict is where most of your thinking and worrying originate. It's where the narrative in your head comes from, such as "I suck" or "If I could only be more this and less that" or "I'm not doing as well as this person or that person, what's wrong with me?" These narratives go to the heart of your self-esteem because they make you see yourself as value-less, in the same way the Fox News narratives make people hate O-Bama. And when you think you're lacking value, that's when you get defensive, paranoid that others are going to leave you with nothing, unable to admit any fault, and unable to see the inherent goodness in the people around you.

So what do we do? We can't just say "EVERYONE STAHP" because the cheaters in society will just use that as an opening to take advantage of others. One thing we can do is be more responsible about using and disseminating narratives, be it alone, with significant others, or with political opponents. We could also start to develop a sensitivity and vocabulary for identifying rhetoric and narrative. Then there're more angular solutions like inter-group joint and cooperation on neutral projects. I bet if you asked 4 Republicans and 4 Democrats to build a sand castle together, they'd end up feeling just a little less hatred towards one another. Also, it would look funny.

Email questions to askedahn@gmail.com.