Confrontation and Compassion

I am still a big kid at heart, and I hope I never outgrow it. I find enjoyment in small things like a freshly picked blackberry, still warm from the summer sun, or the smell of an espresso in the still of dawn. I still like to play, to chase, to wrestle. I think that’s part of the fun of studying Aikido, it’s so playful! I still like gaming, and really enjoy some of the light and fun games on the iPad. My clan in “Clash of the Clans” is a collection of people from all over the world, and wherever  I travel for speaking engagements, they are there. It’s one of the best aspects of gaming, the light and humorous social interactions. Everyone has fun, but as good Digital Citizens, nobody really reveals too much about themselves, we just play, chat, and poke fun. With this in mind, I’d like to share a story with you.

Recently, I was in Sydney airport on my way back from Australia, and had a few hours to wait for a plane, so I checked in on my clan. The following is the chat I had with Ninjix:

Ninjix: really bad day
Lee: whats up?

Ninjix: really sad. i lost a really good friend today
Lee: I’m so sorry jix. ru doing ok?

Ninjix: ya, it sucks though, we were best friends since we were kids.
Lee: I understand, how old?

Ninjix: you asking me for my age or his?
Lee: Sorry, I meant how old was ur friend?

Ninjix: ohhh, he is 15
Lee: Wow, so young, what happened?

Ninjix: he stole my girlfriend!
Lee: Sorry, I’m confused.

Ninjix: pretty simple really, he started dating my girlfriend, so I lost my girl and my best friend at the same time!
Lee: OIC! whew! I thought he died!

Ninjix: i wish!

I boarded the plane shortly after, and a few hours later I started to think about this interaction. When language is forming, it is learned through associations—a picture of an apple, and the word apple. Eventually we learn what an apple is and how to say it. Then we compound our understanding with experience. The first time I ate an apple in Japan, I thought I was in heaven! I had no idea apples could be so good, and I learned a new word in Japanese, mitsu (ミツ). A good apple in Japan has a translucent centre that is so sweet and juicy it’s like honey. It totally transformed my understanding of and association with the word “apple.”

Sometimes this happens in a way that’s not so positive. Someone calls us a name, or someone we love says something in a cruel context. Through this a mere word like “typical”, is tainted with the constant humiliation of a former partner or parent that rolls their eyes and sneers the word “typical” every time we do something that displeases them.

Years later, a new friend or partner says the same word in a completely different context, and we explode with the anguish of a child tormented by the pain associated with a single word. It has nothing to do with the current context, but we only understand words based on our own experience. In my context and age when someone “just lost their good friend,” it means they have passed away and we are suffering through loss. In the context of a 15-year-old, tearing apart a relationship through betrayal is the most painful experience they can imagine. We can all remember our first heartbreak. At the time it was truly like the end of the world, and we felt we’d never recover.

Every word, every gesture we see connects to the deep karmic history of our experience. Every word is loaded with meaning—not a dictionary definition, but with our encounters with that word. This is what makes authentic communication and interaction so difficult and potentially painful.

When conflict happens, whether in the workplace or at home. It is our ego, (not meaning pride but the presence of the self), that creates the chaos. Learning to listen not to words but to Ki, and to intention is not easy. When our own suffering is triggered, it is not easy to remain curious, asking for clarification, asking to hear more, and to seek to understand what is truly being said. If we connect to our own pain, and through that connect to the pain of others, we can listen with a compassionate heart.

Sometimes, when presenting, I am confronted by someone who wants to disagree with me, or even openly attack me.  When this happens in front of a group of a few thousand people, my ego wants to run and hide, or to argue and fight. But, when I listen with a compassionate heart, (Setsu),  I can connect to their pain. Usually the words may seem to be an attack, but the Ki is different.

Often, my presentations will challenge how we teach and why we do this. Imagine a teacher who has been dedicated to his students all his life is seeing this presentation, and challenges me aggressively. Is it about me, or is it that he is feeling judged by my words? Perhaps he agrees with what I am saying, but accepting this means to him that everything he has done as a teacher has been wrong. His good heart and desire to do what’s best for his students is suffering with this conflict.

Perhaps my response is not to allow my ego to argue, but to listen to his heart, see his pain and respond by saying, “You are an excellent teacher, and I have no doubt you give 100% to your students everyday. But learning never stops, and 100% yesterday is different from 100% today. I am not saying what you have been doing is wrong. I am offering you new learning and new realizations, and your 100% tomorrow will be different with this information. It’s not about judging your past, but about creating a new possibility for your future.” This only is possible when I am able to hold my ego and listen with a compassionate heart.

There is an instant shift that occurs, and the situation is diffused. The real conversation was not about what was being said, but a heart and Ki level understanding that I am here to support him with the most sincere wish for a bright future for his students—something we share.

Remain curious. The next time you feel challenged at work or at home, shift your heart, and listen with compassion. Set aside your own pain for a moment, and listen through the pain in others. See what happens. Have you had a good experience listening with a compassionate heart? Tell others about it in the comments below. I’d like to hear your story too.

2 Comments

  1. Kristi McCracken October 19, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    As a Common Core Coach, my job is to gently nudge teachers into perfecting their craft. Part of this happens by presenting new instructional ideas at workshops where participants can find change to be challenging. While many of the teachers I work with are masterful at engaging students, hearing ways that student thinking might be stimulated more isn’t easy because some interpret that as a message that they’re not doing enough. I really resonated with your idea that hearing the energy behind their defensive words helps me to connect rather than letting my ego take odds with what previously might have been interpreted as an attack. This shift in perception helps me to listen differently and build that collaborative capacity rather than polarize.

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