Calling for a Reckoning

This post may not apply to you, but consider it a warning:

It doesn’t matter how well-meaning you are.

It doesn’t matter how intentional you are.

It doesn’t matter if, after saying what you said, you respond to another person by saying “Well, you have to understand, that wasn’t what I meant.”

It doesn’t matter if the room and audience you said it in front of, applauded when they heard it because it resonated with them.

It doesn’t matter how much you think you were really talking about something else.

When you publicly recommend a reckoning for transgressions that have been long publicly litigated and litigated to a conclusion that merely “is” (rather than a conclusion that may be considered “just” by any modern conception of resolution), then you might as well bring in the heavy equipment.

Because, invariably, you are going to have to oversee the digging of multiple graves.

Be careful when demanding a reckoning to get to justice.

What Does Your Perspective Look Like When You Change Your Mind

What does your perspective look like when you change your mind?

Mindsets are based in the accumulation of identity, meaning, life experiences, and assumptions that each of us make about how the world, and the systems in it, should work.

Mindsets are also backed up by the accumulated cruft of judgments, frames, attributions, and other cognitive “ticks” that people exhibit in their thinking and behavioral choices.

Many of the aspects of mindsets are considered by individuals to be fixed: they are what they are and there’s little point in attempting to change them.

Some of the aspects of mindsets are considered by some individuals to be changeable: they can be grown, can shift, can be made to serve a person rather than the other way around.

Changing your mind can come in many forms: through seeking new knowledge, through taking on new challenges, through deciding what not to do, or even through seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with another.

The journey from here to there is important. But not nearly as important as it is for you to tell us what it looks like from that new perspective.

Seeing is Not Believing

Many times, at the intersection between human behavior and true innovative change, seeing is not believing.

Or maybe that’s hearing…

This often happens when the information we are confronted with about a coming future, doesn’t match with the information we have chosen to believe in the immediate present, about how our current situation should (or ought) to come to pass in the future.

When there is a gap between the information of the future (unbelievable) and the information of the present (believable) human beings choose to believe the information in front of their faces, no matter what the evidence to the contrary.

This happens even more acutely in groups, where the thinking of the team can be pushed, developed, molded and influenced, by reinforcing considerations that were original in the past; in spite of changing current circumstances.

More and more, the hard work of the future lies in having the self-awareness and courage to adjust your mindset when information comes in that is contrary to what you previously thought.

However, this can be daunting if you’re emotionally committed to building a business based on this information, building a family based on this information, or even building a culture or society.

Little things that seem big (changing your mind in the face of future information) are similar to the rudder of a ship: They seem small and obvious to do, but in reality, they result in the entire ship massively changing course.

Course changes aren’t nearly as hard as mindset changes.

If The Process Doesn’t Interest You Too Much…

If the process of resolving a conflict doesn’t interest you too much…

If you just want to “be done with it’ already…

If you “just don’t care how it stops” just that it’s over…

If you have “no dog in this fight”…

If you are “just a disinterested observer”…

Then in reality you are a spectator and your behavior of standing around (metaphorically) observing the conflict and its results, and not adding to either getting to resolution, reconciliation, or management of the conflict at hand, is causing more harm than good.

We don’t need more gawkers at car wrecks.

We’ve got enough of those already.

We need more people willing to stop by the side of the road of a conflict and help to get the parties to their best selves.

Or, at the least, be willing to dial 911 as they fly by on their way to other, more pressing issues.

What We Can Have

There can be truth and justice and civility in a civil society.

For if we sacrifice any of the three—in service of achieving any one of the others—the pillars of civil society fall apart.

And then, we become the very monsters of oppression we are fighting to destroy.

Grace from Here to the Moon

The steps toward forgiveness and reconciliation include the giving of—and getting of—grace.

We don’t often think about grace (other than maybe as a person’s name, in light of physical attributes, or as a ritual that some families perform before a meal) but the fact is, there used to be public, shared discourse around grace, regardless of politics, emotions, educational attainment, or material situation.

This was grace in the Christian conception of such a term, meaning “God’s unmerited favor.”

Webster’s New World College Dictionary provides this theological definition of grace: “The unmerited love and favor of God toward human beings; divine influence acting in a person to make the person pure, morally strong; the condition of a person brought to God’s favor through this influence; a special virtue, gift, or help given to a person by God.” This definition is based in virtue harkening toward a strong moral core.

Another way of framing grace is that it is getting what we least deserve, when we least expect it, through no effort of our own.

Getting grace implies faith and surrender.

Giving grace implies forgiveness and reconciliation.

Understanding and appreciating the depth of the need for grace and the skillset to give grace is implanted in people through developing a strong moral center.

This is deep and dark waters though, because moral centers (and the ballast that undergirds them) are so very rarely considered by individuals at depth, much less by societies at scale, in countries where the Church is no longer as powerful a moral force as it once was.

We outsource parts of our emotional life to politics that we used to outsource to the Church. The Church used to be a bulwark of morality—even in the face of conflicts so detrimental and consequential that they used to escalate to World Wars.

But the skills that undergird giving grace—such as humility, obedience, and discipline—are harder to acquire now than ever before both individually and corporately. And when the skills that undergird giving grace are lacking, getting grace seems as unattainable as going to the moon on the back of a cardboard rocket.

Grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation; these are what the world—and our civil discourse—need now.

Pushing Your Chips Forward

“There’s a real lack of moral fiber,” he said, before launching into a story about local criminality, theft, drug smuggling, and a situation that—while murder may not have happened yet—was certainly in the offering.

“It’s almost like No Country For Old Men,” another party in the conversation quipped. Trying to recall the lines from the film, I misquoted, so I’ll quote accurately here from Ed Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones [emphasis mine]:

“…You can’t help but compare yourself against the old timers. Can’t help but wonder how they would have operated these times.

There was this boy I sent to the ‘lectric chair at Huntsville Hill here a while back. My arrest and my testimony. He killt a fourteen-year-old girl. Papers said it was a crime of passion but he told me there wasn’t any passion to it.

Told me that he’d been planning to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember.

Said that if they turned him out he’d do it again.

Said he knew he was going to hell. “Be there in about fifteen minutes”.

I don’t know what to make of that. I sure don’t. The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to die to even do this job. But, I don’t want to push my chips forward and go out and meet something I don’t understand. A man would have to put his soul at hazard. He’d have to say, “O.K., I’ll be part of this world.”

A person observes it happening and the temptation is to believe that it has always been this way. The sky has always been falling, and it’s always been the end of the world.

But the reality is, things really have changed and our conflict culture (which used to be focused around, first going along to get along) is now increasingly focused on winning at the expense of everything else.

When the clarity of fiction sheds light on the murkiness of facts, the problem revealed is deep at the core of our culture and society.

The further away culture drifts from a moral core, the harder civility and grace become, both as states to attain and as skills to practice.

We see this fact in our conflict communication, in the tools that ramp up and give power to the tendencies we already had, and in the interactions, we allow to happen to us on a daily basis.

How many of us are willing to push our chips forward and meet something, without moral fiber, that we don’t understand?

H/T to the Anonymous Storyteller who mentioned this to me.

[Opinion] Charisma and Conflict

The vagaries and gossamer of human communication patterns, dictates that intuition, visualization, rapport, and patience, matter more than the one trait many parties believe matters the most—charisma.

Charisma is fine.

As a matter of face, in the pursuit of persuading parties to get to the table of resolution, charisma will take the 3rd party persuader far.

But the charisma of one party, in the face of the lack of belief of the other party, won’t go far at all.

This seems obvious.

What’s less obvious are the impact of each of the party’s past behaviors, choices, and communication patterns around the four areas that do matter: intuition, visualization, rapport, and patience.

Intuition—the feeling that one party is not being honest, engaging in prevarication, or may have ulterior motives, can be a powerful driver for avoiding resolution. Charisma may serve to buffet intuition, but an impression—a snap judgement, if you will—once made, is almost impossible to charisma away.

Visualizationthe ability to vision a future without a conflict with the other party across the table, has to come from inside each party. When there is no vision, the peace talks perish. Charisma may hold the parties at the table, but charisma can’t replace “buying into” a persuasive vision all parties can visualize.

Rapport—the ability (and desire) to get along (which seems counter-intuitive) matters more in resolving a conflict that most parties would think. But the hope that a future can be better, combined with a positive intuition about the other party’s motives, can water the seed of rapport between parties. Charisma can trigger rapport, but it can’t bring hope.

Patience—in resolving conflicts, patience is an underrated, underappreciated, and under-acknowledged, trait of parties. Patience matters more than charisma. Parties often though are impatient—with outcomes, with the speed (or lack thereof) of the process of resolution, and with the nature of each party themselves. Charisma may help move people toward patience, but it won’t keep them patient.

The parties in conflict who will be the most successful in moving toward resolution and reconciliation, will be the ones who realize that what got them to conflict, isn’t going to get them to a solution.

Much less resolution.

[Advice] Re/Solution

What’s going to be on the test?

Is this going to work out?

What can we get here?

Who benefits?

All questions that revolve around what is commonly known as resolution. Some in psychology call it closure, but really it’s the mental and emotional process of getting a definitive answer that “ties off” any loose ends.

Narrative structures such as novels, films, short stories, all rely on an ending that is “settled.” Even when we talk about data and research—areas that should have nothing to do with a narrative, but are merely reflections of the world as we have objectively tested it—we use the phrase lately “the science is settled.

Yeah. Ok. So why are we still arguing?

The problem is not closure, an answer, an end to a narrative or even getting other parties to agree. The problem inherent in all of this phraseology and narrative structure around conflict is two-fold:

  • We are framing our arguments, negotiations, mediations, and litigations, in the language of closure and resolution, when in reality we are selfishly seeking a way for us to win, and for the other party to lose. Rather than chasing a “lose-lose” outcome, this is a corollary to the idea that we seek an answer—or a conclusion—that matches our worldview, which is the best one, or else it wouldn’t be our worldview.
  • We are seeking a manipulation, not of facts, but of other people whose ideas, positions, and interests we find to be distasteful, disagreeable, or just downright wrong. We seek to shut “the other” up, raise our own perspective up and devalue the other party, all in one fell rhetorical swoop.

When we seek to disconnect, rather than connect, and to ignore rather than understand; when we seek to replace the value already provided in an experience with the value we would rather the experience have; when we seek to judge rather than to educate; we aren’t looking to get to resolution.

We are merely seeking a solution.

[Strategy] On Truth and Reconciliation

There’s truth.

There’s reconciliation.

Rarely do you get both of them together.

This isn’t to say that parties seeking reconciliation are engaging in deceitful behavior or lying to gain an outcome that benefits them in a conflict process. But we are all selfish and no more so than when we can see the light at the end of the tunnel of conflict.

This isn’t also to say that parties seeking truth are engaging in behavior that will prolong conflicts and make them worse. But we are all myopic when our needs aren’t met around core values—like getting to the truth of a matter.

Just because you get the truth from the other party in conflict about their motives, their moods, their inner drives, or the outcomes they want, doesn’t mean that you’re going to get reconciliation.

And just like resolution, reconciliation may just be as hard to arrive at.