Category Archives: Tough times

First “Conflict” Once Removed

A favorite game at extended family reunions used to be point out a tribe member and then see who could properly to identify the relationship. My first cousin Charlie was an expert. He would remind me that my kids were his first cousins once removed as well as our aunt due to a great aunt adopting one of our mother’s sisters. I usually was quickly lost when we would play where Charlie could maintain clarity and rattle off the titles of everyone in the room.

Relationship chart

Relationship chart

Charlie’s gift has kept on giving this week as I have been muddling over how to decipher and describe conflict relationships. Using my cousin’s logic, you’ve got your first degree disputes: you and another are fighting over something. If it is a business relationship, you and that person might be the named parties on the mediation documents. At home, the two kids screaming in your hallway at each other would be the clear participants in the battle. In these cases, we know the disputants or the “sides.”

Meanwhile, what about the sister/wife/business partner/friend of one of the folks you would name above? How would you name her? And, more importantly what is her role?

In honor of Charlie, I want to give that sister/wife/business partner a title — 1st Disputant Once Removed or 1DOR.  A 1DOR will be anyone who is one step back from a conflict, but connected due to their personal connection to a direct player.

Being a 1DOR is a muddy role.  If your wife is fighting with another, does that mean you are fighting with that person as well? What can you say? Where, if anywhere, are your opinions best spoken? In the case of the two kids screaming in the hallway, what is the best position for the third sibling who was in her room reading?

Sometimes we can stay out of the battle while it is fought and resolved. Our loved ones can fight with another while we listen and stay out of the fray. We might provide a few words of encouragement or support as tempers rise and recede. Conflict brings opportunity, but it is also messy, risky and can be dangerous, so laying low would be an advised strategy here.

Meanwhile, some disputes linger and battle lines are drawn. The third sibling can’t hide in her room forever. Your family feuds with a neighbor for years, do we wave at the neighbor when you pass him in the car?  Who is fighting in the US with the government of Afghanistan?

I met with a friend last week who shared she has been exhibiting symptoms of anxiety seemingly for no apparent reason. It was disconcerting her, but as we discussed the past months, it became clear that her role as a 1DOR for both sides of an ongoing dispute had been wearing her down. She can’t escape the enduring conflict, she has little power to resolve it and doesn’t want to take sides.  As I listened, I wondered when my 1DOR status has adversely affected me without my conscious awareness? Stepping back, I was struck by how often I have been a 1DOR as a sister, mother, wife, friend, employee, community member and citizen. This called me to consider more deeply how I can best play in that role.

In my next posts, I will cover how we might naturally react as a 1DOR given our default conflict styles and an ancient Hindu practice upon which we can draw for support.

TEDxBozeman Video is Available

Per your many requests, please find my March 23rd Tedx Talk below! It is also available on YouTube under the Tedx Channel at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEAzWD3038Y .

Thank you for your kind and enduring support, Deidre

Cruel to be Kind?

I was asked to speak on the subject of kindness this week.  To do so, I realized I had to first wrestle with the meaning of kindness. How can it be applied not just to those easy moments when a friend calls in need of compassion, but when you are maneuvering through a working day? 

I used to see kindness as simple and fun. It was bringing soup to the neighbor with the cold or buying lottery tickets from the 8th grader raising money for a school trip.  As I dig deeper, I realize that kindness requires courage and often a ferocity that feels antithetical to a trait that seems soft and sweet.

Here’s a common example, a business colleague makes continued interpersonal errors. What’s the kindest action? By keeping noble silence, am I being kind? Or, telling him what I am witnessing, would that be kinder? Kindness in this instance is not simple and it may not be remotely fun especially if there can be negative repercussions for whatever action you take.

To ferret out an answer to this polemic question, I look to the practices of full-court empathy, looking for the bigger picture and how to tell the truth.

Finding the kindest action is clearer when I can drop into another’s shoes while standing at the same time in my own. An act of kindness needs to support both the other person and me. If I forget either of us in the equation, I am being unkind.  Kindness is the resolution of what appears to be irreconcilable opposites of competing needs. What will truly support us both…not to make everyone smile, but truly improve our situations?

Focusing on the bigger picture also creates clarity. I see this with parenting. Teaching our children to be responsible citizens may involve some tough feedback as they grow. Is it kind to discipline a child after she have been caught trying to steal candy? For the whole, the tears and internal struggles are ultimately compassionate as the child learns how to navigate society’s rules.  So, to find the answer to “what’s the kindest action?” also involves thinking of our larger context.

Last, counsel on how to tell the truth cuts a path through my brain thicket. Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien says to “tell the truth without blame or judgment.” Another cross-cultural rule of thumb is to tell the truth from a place of “I.”  So, “You are offensive and cause problems with your peers,” in the above example is not fully true nor very kind. That’s just my opinion.  Using a non-judgmental I statement like “I am picking up discord in our interactions and am not sure how to proceed,” could be kinder and more truthful.

Kindness is not easy, yet when it comes my way it is a balm for the soul. How can we each bring more kindness into the weeks ahead?

 

 

You gotta be flexible

My mother-in-law Jinny Combs taught me many things.

As one of my most formative bosses, I probably model my leadership style off of hers more than I recognize. I know that I rely on two pieces of constant Jinny advice, “Look for people with good attitudes, you can teach them everything else,” and “You gotta be flexible!”

After running a guest ranch in southwestern Montana for fifty years, Jinny could have easily written a long book on leadership, but instead she penned three cookbooks and a collection of funny stories about life at the Diamond J.

Jinny taught that you could use writing to foster flexibility. When we would lose a pet or a person, my mother-in-law would write a poem. Sometimes a haiku composed at 4 am fit the bill and in other cases, a prose poem was right. Really anytime life surprised her, Jinny took pen to paper and reframed the situation into one that had value and, most often, a whole lot of humor.

These poems were never just for her. Once the story was captured in verse, it was typed, copied and sent out to a large distribution list of friends and family.  An envelope with Jinny’s distinctive writing was a harbinger of news that although it may contains some sadness would always have us giggling.

Each piece would also end with an “ole!” Since my in laws spent their winters in Mexico that felt fitting, but this now feels like a constant call to get back on your feet and cheer that you are still here. Jinny was never one for focusing on loss or grieving, at least around us. There were guests to meet in the summer, or to correspond with off season, and more fun to be found.

Jinny read whatever I wrote loyally, including this blog. The videos were her favorite and, before she got sick last spring, they always engendered calls and emails.  It should be no surprise to me that I have been putting off composing a post after losing her last August.  I would like to chalk it up to too much work, but if I am honest, I have been avoiding the pain of writing without her reading.

But, you gotta be flexible — is not following our mentors’ advice is one of the ways that we can honor them? Jinny often said that her mother-in-law created the most brilliant sunsets. Following her tradition, maybe it’s time to believe that Jinny is out there watching in the vast worldwide web. She’s sending along her favorite emails full of animal photos and waiting for me to get back on my feet. And so, I send this far and wide, just as she would have, and end this post with a rousing, but I must admit teary “OLE!”

Allow

The fool who thinks he is a fool is for that very reason a wise man; But the fool who thinks he is a wise man is rightly called a fool– Dhammapada 63

Last week a friend suddenly disappeared. Like magic, one minute she was engaged and providing her perspective in a meeting we were attending together and the next minute she was gone. Her body stayed at the meeting, but she had left.

My car battery also went on “walk about” last week…twice. Like my friend, its essential spirit took off and I was left searching for alternative transportation.

When I dropped my daughter off for a soccer game on Saturday, I noticed that I returned to the same mind set that had appeared during the earlier described disappearing acts. My mind raced like a train on an oft-used track clicking past scenarios of where we stood and what might happen next. My thoughts sped along with:

  • Will she score?
  • What if it rains?
  • What if they lose?

Earlier in the week, my mind-train visited its usual stops:

  • Will my friend return?
  • Is there more wrong with my car than the battery? and the ubiquitous,
  • What could I have done to prevent this?

That last one always gets my inner conductor yelling, “Next stop…Let’s Try To Control The Future…all aboard! Getting off that station, I’ll be sure to try to fix whatever is worrying me, whether it is a friend’s silence or a child’s potential disappointment.

Sometimes trying to control outcomes makes sense, like getting the darn car fixed. However, my “control the future” reaction is far from appropriate when it comes to wanting to shift the mental or emotional states of others.

Being a control-focused leader — be it as a manager, friend, parent or instructor — is not very attractive. While the conductor is calling out that next station, it is important for me to consciously decide if I need to disembark at “Control!”

In my examples, I had no need to intervene or control my friend or daughter. My friend, it turned out, disappeared because she was preoccupied with worry about an ex-boyfriend was very ill. My daughter did score and they won that day. Their experiences and emotions were best witnessed and left to unfold as needed, whether they were painful or pleasant.

Meanwhile, we are wired in such a way that just watching can be really difficult. Latest brain research seems to show that we are each equipped with “mirror neurons,” that mimic the emotions that we witness in others. You are sad, and I have a good set of mirror neurons, I will feel your sadness. You feel pain and I’ll register it too. Thus, when those I care about are on the way to tough emotions, I might wish to circumvent their route so I don’t feel discomfort.

I have been trying out a new approach to scoot me right by “control the future” land when the conductor calls. When another looks like they might experience pain, I first check if they are in true danger.  If the answer is “no,” I begin repeating silently, “Allow.”

“Allow” reminds me to let go of needless control. It’s my code word for allowing others their own experiences; to let them feel sadness, anger or disappointment. Saying, “allow” to myself calms. My body relaxes as I become more focused what’s occurring now instead of pushing to shift the future. It is a practice of recognizing that I don’t necessarily know emotions or situations are best for others and in repeating “allow” I place a bit more trust in those I care about, and in life.

Notice this week, what supports you moving from a quick “fix it” reaction to a more centered response?