Compassion in Conflict

I started writing this because I was reading through some exchanges on a feed I used to follow and I was stunned at the incredible viciousness between some of the contributors.  I found their twisting of yoga/zen/etc. principles into vicious points appalling.


I think it struck me as hard as it did because it was in a yoga centric forum.  I have beliefs; very strong ones and I’m willing to debate and yes even argue my position vigorously.  And at one time in my life I would have; scratch that, I did; resort to this type of “debate.”


But in my time studying martial arts, yoga and the like, I have chosen to take what I think is a better path.  This same path was held up as “the” path or a better path by both sides of this exchange and the path they both claim to be better at than the other.  It is one of Ahimsa; non-violence and compassion.


Image courtesy of ForestWander Nature Photography.

Image courtesy of ForestWander Nature Photography.

For the record, I’m not perfect; far from it.  That said, I do put my best, honest effort into changing my life and moving towards the person I want to be.  And a big part of that is being a kinder person.  Learning to disagree with others in civil, productive ways has been a long road for me; but a worthwhile one.


Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Of course with any polarizing topic, there is always more than one point of view.  In my experience, what makes some topics so polarizing is that the topic strikes to the heart of something that we identify with so much it feels like it is actually a part of us.


Image courtesy of like_shipwrecks    / Flickr.

Image courtesy of like_shipwrecks / Flickr.

The question is how do we engage in a civil discussion over topics that stir emotions so powerful they threaten to overrun our sensibilities?  I’ve found a couple of ways that seem to work.  The first is to completely detach the emotional component.  By decoupling the emotional context from the topic, discussions can remain lively, logical (very cerebral) and mostly civil.  There are a few challenges with this tact.  First, it isn’t easy to detach in this way.  Second, the removal of the emotional context dulls if not completely neuters the passion an advocate brings to the discussion.


The second way is to approach these discussions (and where possible, most conflicts) with a sense of compassion and understanding.  Our feelings and emotions come from our past experiences.  Understanding and accepting that fact will enable us to compassionately observe the reaction a topic brings out in others; and ourselves.


Armed with this compassion and understanding we can approach the topic in a manner that allows for all parties to be heard, the entanglements to be addressed and a resolution to surface.  Simple to say and likely one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do; every single time I do it.


The upside is that although challenging, this approach keeps all the passion for the topic and the emotional connection.  What it also does is make space and allow for each person to be genuinely heard; even if you don’t agree with their point of view.  And with practice, it creates a fantastic forum for open, lively communication that allows for a wide range of views and remains civil.  Ideally it also leaves out the “I’m more zen than you are” competition.

Image courtesy of flickr by Christopher Michel.

Image courtesy of flickr by Christopher Michel.


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