Are you a being or a thing? Is your spouse, colleague, family member or neighbor a being or a thing? We are all beings, of course. Yet, when faced with conflict we often treat our conflict partners as things instead of equal beings, carrying within them difficult stories, uncomfortable feelings and unmet needs.
From a disagreement between Susan and Amin, to clashing interests between sovereign states, dehumanizing the other is at the very source of escalating a difference in viewpoints into a full-blown conflict. And, we are masters in making objects from people. Whether we assign common characteristics to whole groups of people based on their ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation; argue in terms of positions; make moralistic judgments; desire to fix or to change others; or refuse to hear the views of our conflict partners as equal to our own, we try to manipulate things, not honoring, or at least acknowledging, beings.
Seeing beings instead of things, is not easy. While we can manipulate things, manipulating people comes at great cost. We can fix things, but we cannot fix or change people. When dealing with things there is certain clarity – a hammer works great in putting nails into the wall, but it does not work so well when used as a spoon. Yet, there is ambiguity and complexity when dealing with people. Unlike things, people have feelings and needs that could be difficult to discern and acknowledge without loosing touch with our own.
Our most meaningful and deepest relationships are with beings, not things and we can only dis-solve conflict if we are willing to engage with people. To experience others as beings and not things, we must start by connecting with our own humanity. You see, treating people as objects, is merely a reflection of how we view and treat ourselves. Don’t we value ourselves as mere means to an end? Don’t we value ourselves in terms of things we’ve done or we have? Are we interested in knowing what are we really feeling? Do we give ourselves space to just be (even with our discomfort)? Are we listening to ourselves? Are we connected with our needs?
To begin experiencing our own humanity we can start by just taking fifteen minutes per day to just connect our breath (pausing as little as possible between inhales and exhales) and observe whatever is arising within us, be it pleasant or not. We can also allow ourselves to simply be vulnerable and imperfect, while knowing that our vulnerability and imperfection are at the sources of our own humanity. Setting aside our external triggers, we can allow ourselves to fully and unconditionally experience thoughts, emotions and physical sensations that are emerging for us at each moment in time. Instead of judging or analyzing them, we can simply observe whatever is at the moment. By committing to being with ourselves and experiencing our own humanity in all its positive and negative aspects and identifying and exploring our own feelings and needs, we can begin the process of experiencing others as beings and not things. And, when we are able to see ourselves as human, we’ve taken the first step towards Dis-Solving Conflict from Within.