While working on nuclear weapons I became acquainted on intimate terms with my own self-righteousness - the captivating, invigorating notion that I am right and "they" are wrong. The moral high ground is not a good place to be...neither useful nor effective. I have realised painfully over the years that if I genuinely want to open a dialogue with someone, I have to be open to accept what he is communicating to me, and to even consider the awful possibility that I might be wrong. Dr. Scilla Elworthy
Lots of life happening here this past week in the home of the “Apple Capital of the World”… North Central Washington. Apple Blossom Festival, a parade, friends and family sleeping over, a birthday celebration, and nature showing off with snow-capped mountains and spectacular flowers of all sorts. A lot for the brain and body to absorb! (John took this apple blossom pic in an orchard by our house)
It may seem strange to start with a story (and a book) that seems out of left field. I will do my best to bring it all together. Stick with me.
The story. You may have heard it. It’s a strange story with two takeaways that illustrates just about everything we need to know about living together. It helps me see what I need to keep learning and practicing.
The story takes place in Iraq, Najaf, to be exact. 2003. The main character is U.S. Lieutenant Colonel (at the time), Chris Hughes. The U.S. invasion of Iraq had begun a few months earlier.
Suddenly as Hughes and his “men” (most actually still in their teens) marched down one of the sandy streets, Iraqi civilians started pouring out of their houses. These were angry people, shouting people, waving their fists.
The young U.S. troops spoke no Arabic and were clearly bewildered by what was happening. LTC Chris Hughes calmly strode to the middle of the crowd, raised his rifle into the air and pointed it toward the ground.
Hughes gave a command the troops had never heard before. “Kneel!”
The confused, heavily armored soldiers wobbled their way to their knees and pointed their rifles into the sand. The crowd quietened in disbelief. There was almost total silence for two or three minutes. And then the crowd dispersed. There was no bloodbath, no massacre, not a shot fired.
The book I recently read in which this story was told, The Business Plan For Peace, written by Dr. Scilla Elworthy, synthesized in rather simple terms what we all need to do. In my mind, it’s not only about world peace, but also joyful, meaningful relationships, leadership, and success in general.
Elworthy (BTW, has the cred to back up what she says. She was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with Oxford Research Group to develop effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policymakers worldwide. She was also adviser to prominent leaders including Archbishop Desmond Tutu for example). What are the two takeaways – the two clues to stopping war (and all that other good stuff)?
First…respect. (Let that soak in for a minute). Elworthy says that humiliation is the key driver of violence and respect is the strongest antidote to it.
Second…presence of mind. Hughes was sufficiently trained to be fully present, calm, and aware in the moment. He knew a massacre could happen in a millisecond. (A follow up. As I researched what happened to Hughes, he seems to have retired as a two-star general. We communicated briefly on LinkedIn when I tried to verify what happened).
Elworthy does write a wonderfully pragmatic book about what can be done to make war obsolete. She’s no babe-in-the woods. She knows other drivers of war – greed, fanaticism, fear, and a certain enjoyment of fighting, to name a few.
But what surprised me was toward the end of the book. She notes two things that are changing which many may not be seeing (but I am noticing myself).
We are moving, in some corners of the globe, from a “me” mindset to a “we” mindset. We are moving from “what can I get” to “what can I give.”
AND much of that is being powered by a change in how we work with ourselves internally. Knowing our emotional triggers. Knowing what makes us reactive and vindictive. Being more self-aware. Owning and integrating our “shadow” – our wounds and fears and longings that we’ve stuffed down. Dealing with inner critic (which she calls “our dragon”). Self-awareness, mindfulness.
And learning to listen. Being willing to dialogue. Respecting the other.
AND Elsworthy points out that the new global peace movement is coming from grassroots. That really resonated because we have seen a movement toward kindness literally rise up from the ground in our own Wenatchee Valley. We’re a small part of it. It’s being called “Kindness Counts” (kindnesscountsncw.com and facebook.com/kindnesscountsncw)
This Saturday John and I carried the kindness counts banner a mile and a half while an enthusiastic crowd gave their endorsement to a simple float carrying people in hardhats wielding hammers and sporting the Apple Blossom slogan “We’re All in this Together” (designed by 3rd grader Coralee Collings) and “Let’s Build Communities of Kindness.” My hand and face were numb from waving and smiling to people who were all lit up about kindness.
Then John and I came home to be with grandkids who were dealing with each other, their siblings, and friends. Figuring out their emotions and reactivities. Becoming more self-aware. Learning… that everyone does better with a more respect and less humiliation.
Now to the birthday. I’m a few days into a new seventy-third year. I’m still a grandparent-in-training. More respect, less humiliation. Noted. More self-awareness, presence, compassion and understanding. Noted. A little less “me” and a bit more “we.” Noted. Less what can I get, more what can I give. Noted. As I said, it’s a lot to absorb – a lot to learn and practice.
But I’m enthused like those hundreds, maybe thousands, we saw on the parade route waving, smiling, clapping for kindness. We can start to realistically imagine a place – not void of conflict, but where war is obsolete and conflict can be handled skillfully.
Peace, according to Elworthy, is larger than the absence of war and violence. Peace means living together with, and even celebrating, our differences. It’s a good thing to consider as Memorial Day looms before us.
It’s a lot. And I’m reminded that I’m not alone…others are on the journey…like one of my friends and inspirations, Dr. Gene Sharratt (Kindness Counts spearhead and coordinator). He signs most of his emails “with respect.” The first time I saw it, it bowled me over. What might happen if we all signed off our communications “with respect.” (Gene won the 2023 Spirit of Ernst & Susan Wagner Award at the Apple Blossom All Service & Community meeting in recognition of his outstanding impact on the Greater Wenatchee Community. The award honors individuals who make the community a better place to live.)
How might we move up to The Good Life together by doing our inner work - becoming more self-aware so that we are able to be more skillful – respectful, avoiding humiliation, genuinely listening and dialoguing with our family, friends, neighbors, and even our enemies; remembering that we are all in this together and supporting each other in building peaceful, joyful communities of kindness across the globe?
Addendum from Elworthy’s book:
10 Tips for Effective Communication by Liz Kingsnorth (syndicated from Heartfulness magazine)
1. An intention for connection.
Aim for a respectful and compassionate quality of connection, so that everyone can express themselves, be heard and understood. Trust that the connection is more important and more nourishing than being right, or even just having your say. Connection means to try to be open and stay in touch with what matters to the other person – and to yourself – in each present moment.
2. Listen more than you speak.
We have two ears and one mouth – a reminder of what is important! Listening is key to a healthy relationship. Often we are only half listening, waiting for our chance to speak, wanting to make our point. When our attention is with our own thoughts, we are not listening. Listening means to enter into the world of the other person, to intend to understand them, even if we disagree with what they are saying.
3. Understand the other person first.
When another person feels you understand them, they are far more likely to be open to understanding you. Willingness to understand involves generosity, respect, self-control, compassion and patience. Be ‘curious instead of furious’ about how others are different from you.
4. Understand needs, wishes and values.
Everything people say and do expresses an underlying need, longing or value. We can learn to identify and ‘hear’ these needs, even when they are not expressed explicitly. Because all human beings share these needs, they are our magic key to unlocking mutual understanding. For example, if someone says, “You are so selfish, you never do anything to help at home,” they are indirectly expressing a longing for consideration and support, but it is coming out as blame and judgment. If we can empathise rather than react, we will connect and the person will feel understood.
5. Begin with empathy.
Immediately telling your own similar story
Interrogating with lots of data-type questions
Interpreting the other’s experience
One-upping e.g. “if you think that’s bad wait till you hear about what happened to me!”
Dismissing the person’s feelings e.g. “Oh don’t be angry.”
Dismissing the person’s experience, or telling the person that this experience is actually good for them!
Generally people appreciate receiving empathy more than anything else.
6. Take responsibility for your feelings.
What someone else says or does is not the cause for how we feel, it is the trigger. Our feelings are stimulated by what’s happening. For example, if someone does not do what they say they will do, we might tell them, “You make me so angry, you are so unreliable!” This inflammatory accusation could be rephrased as, “I feel frustrated because it’s important to me that we keep to agreements we have made.”
7. Make requests that are practical, specific and positive.
Make requests that will help fulfil our needs. This stops us just complaining, and allows the situation to change. Don’t ask things of others that are too vague or too big, or are expressed as a negative request, e.g. “Stop making so much noise.” Be positive and specific, e.g. “I am working. Can you please use the headphones while playing video games?”
8. Use accurate, neutral descriptions.
When we are upset, we often interpret what has happened, using judgmental language, rather than accurately describing what has triggered us. This can get us into a fight immediately! For example, instead of simply stating, “You didn’t call me,” we might interpret and then accuse, “You don’t care about me!” First describe the situation in a neutral, accurate way, free of judgments or blame. Then the communication can continue with sharing feelings, needs and requests. For example, instead of saying, “That’s a really stupid idea!” you might say, “If we all go to a movie which ends at midnight [neutral description], I’m worried [feeling], because the children need to get a full night’s sleep [need]. Can we go to the 2 p.m. show instead [specific request]?”
9. Be willing to hear “No”.
Even with these guidelines, our carefully expressed requests might still elicit a “No” from the other person. Why would this upset us? Is it that our request was actually a demand that we expect the other person to fulfil? We have a choice in how we hear that “No”. It could be that something else is important to the other person; that they had a different need or value alive in that moment. Maybe the “No” is their request for something else to happen. And then we are into the dance of giving and bending! “No” is not as threatening as we might imagine.
10. Ways we communicate other than words.
Everything that is in our heart and mind is expressed through our body, our facial expressions, the tone of our voice, and the vibrations that emanate from us. All these are intuitively picked up and understood by others. Are our words in harmony with these subtler elements? We are manifesting our consciousness at every moment. To have connection, understanding and harmony in our relationships, we need to nourish those aspects deeply within ourselves.