A challenge to invite and apologize – a poem by Imtiaz Dharker

Tidying up the emotions of the week

I do so like a Saturday when I cut through the clutter left over from the week, get to the point, and discard the rest.

Apologize and invite

“Apologize and invite”, says orchestra conductor, Ben Zander.  The more irritating someone has been, the more we should apologize, and invite.

Invite them into lives. In a small way, but invite them in.  That is the path away from irritation.

Imtiaz Dharker and The Right Word

I only discovered Imtiaz Dharker‘s poetry midweek, and I went to her site seeking inspiration.  I found it.

This poem is timely. It is a challenge in our age.

And it must be copyright, so I shall not reproduce it. So I will leave you now. The Right Word.

Find the courage to apologise and invite by understanding the deep hurt

When we are outraged, we don’t make a lot of sense

I went to a fairly “diverse” university during a civil war: we had black students, white students, and others!

Life as an “other” was interesting. People who were partisan assumed that you were “for” them, or “against” them, on whatever criteria they thought relevant. It was nothing to do with you exactly ~ you just happened to fit in to some fantasy narrative they had in their heads.

As an “other”, you also spoke to people on both sides and you got to hear what they thought of “the other side”.

Conflicts are deadly. Don’t get me wrong, but if people knew how funny they sounded, maybe they would stop to hear themselves.

I don’t hate you because you are different ~ I make you different so that I can hate you

This is how it went.

Black students said white students were ‘thick’ and white students said white students were ‘thick’

The evidence, on both sides, was that ‘they’ had to work so hard!

I studied psychology and sociology, and even if I didn’t, I would have known that we are ignorant about people we never speak to and that we over-simplify their stories. We also describe common human failings as evil, rather than common human failings.

What was amusing is that both sides perceived working hard as an insult! That was what we all had in common.

Yaz stupid if you have to work hard!

Being lazy wasn’t an insult, but stupid was.

We make people different when we hate them but we are not all the same

Not all cultures believe that being lazy at college is cool. I taught in NZ for a number of years and we had many students from China.  Almost without exception, they would arrive talking about ‘working hard’.  Invariably, by third year, they would be saying, “These Kiwis might have something going here. They don’t do half as much work as I do and they get by”.

So what we value is not universal by any means. Our insults are not universal by any means. Indeed, when our families haven’t spoken for generations, it is a bit of a miracle that we think the same way.

When people don’t ‘like’ us, we make them different

People locked in conflict often do have heaps in common. Most of all, they want attention from the other side.

  • They want to be heard.
  • They want the ‘other side’ to acknowledge them.

Conflict is about status and belonging. We should never forget that.

The conflict spiral is a contorted, complicated process.

It goes like this.

  • I do something (following my imaginary but highly valued story in my head).
  • In that story, I am somebody.
  • My actions set up a relationship with you (good, bad or indifferent).
  • My actions may give you pride of place (or take away your status).
  • If I have taken away your status, you have a choice of reactions.
  • If I am very powerful relative to you and I have many resources that I could share with you, you might choose to go along with my abrogation of your status.
  • If I have power but I lack anything that you really want and can only get from me, you are more likely to react.
      • You might react angrily. In which case of course, my status is threatened and a new process begins. If I have more power than you and very little social sense, I will probably hurt you.
      • You might have great social skills and make a joke which would allow me to apologise quickly, should I be so inclined.
      • The culture that we share might have other solutions. There might be ways that I can “pay you back” that are understood and accepted. Irony is one such leveller.
      • The culture might have solutions that allow me to pay you back in ways that you don’t know about ~ you spit in my tea, for example.
      • Or you might choose to seek redress in other ways. The most likely way is that I lose status in your eyes. You stop believing that the status that comes with my power is legitimate.

In the short term, I might never notice nor care. I have the power, right?  Why should I care?

But I no longer have your respect. In time, you will slowly start to make me the mirror of all you worry about in yourself. If you think that working too hard is a sign that you are no intellectually-equipped to be at university, that will be what is wrong with me too. Not because it is true, but because I don’t talk to you any way. As I don’t talk to you anyway, you might as well be the place where I “dump” all that worries me about the world!  You make me different (in a way that is intelligible to you) to explain why I don’t like you!

And as our relationship descends in to one based only on power, I will be able to live out my fantasy narrative without worrying about how it affects you.

We are on a one-way hiding to nowhere!

So how could we have resolved the conflicts at my university?

We were in the middle of a war and on the whole, the university did a pretty good job of keeping things moving.

  • We were open and we were studying. Under the circumstances, that was pretty good going.
  • We did have a class of “others”. Some of us were crossing the divide and learning a little. Painfully, sometimes. But stripping away generations of animosity has got to be more painful than removing a sticking plaster, right?
  • We did have tutors who held up mirrors to our interaction. Social science lecturers often drew a map of where we sat and showed in other ways how we thought and behaved.

We needed more though. The trouble is that in a civil war, the attitudes of young people reflect the attitudes of their elders and who was going to do ‘more’?

What we learn from communities who’ve lived through intense conflict

The message for those of us not living in communities torn apart by strife is this.

Don’t go there! Don’t move along that path!

When you are ‘dissed’ by someone .  . .

.  .  .you will be angry, disappointed, powerless and dejected.   You will want to retaliate.  You should remember that your ultimate weapon is contempt. By diminishing your status, they have lost status too. The have last status enormously, actually, because the only way to regain that status is with your good will which is not available right now.

Maybe when they insulted you, they meant to be aggressive. It is possible.  Maybe they have got carried away with their fantasy world. We may be want to head that off gently!  Or, maybe their lack of sensitivity to us was caused because we were insensitive in some way to them. Maybe, we did something to inadvertently kick off the spiral of contempt and conflict?

The first possibility to avoiding ridiculous conflict

When we are over our initial irritation (which we feel like it or not), our first possibility is to attempt to restore their status. Just gently. Invite and apologize.

When you have power (and you may have more than you think) .  .  .

.  .  . you will probably be thinking something like “I am right”.  You will be justifying your actions to yourself.  That is a good sign that you are riding roughshod over someone.  Watch yourself!  Remember it is easy to do because it is easy to do.  When you have power, it is oh, so easy.  You more than anyone must bring to a halt this one way hiding to no where.  When you leave people with no alternative but to think “He, or she, has behaved badly.  I have to pretend to offer respect but that is all it will be.”  Then the spiral begins, so slowly that you may not notice at first.

When you notice the spiral, stop.  Don’t worry where it began.  Don’t worry who began.  Just stop and say to yourself.  My loyalty to this person is worth more than anything else.  I can absorb a little irritation.  I can absorb a relationship where I don’t throw my weight around quite so much.  Let me acknowledge that they want my respect as I want theirs.

Let me just stop and show my respect.  Apologize and invite, as Ben Zander says.

Apologize and invite, no matter who is right and who is wrong.  Anything to avoid getting into deep conflicts where we make each other the bad guy to cover up our hurt.

 

A video of Ben Zander speaking on contribution

Here we are.

UPDATE: If you’ve never heard Ben Zander, the orchestra conductor, speak on leadership, I recommend it strongly.  Half an hour that will truly change your life.

Ben Zander,  comfortable of course, in front of a large audience speaks on his work as teacher, university professor and professional conductor.

He has learned to look for the spirit of musicians and talks about “one buttock playing”, “bringing the light to people’s eyes” and  “apologizing and inviting”.  With these three rules of thumb, you’ll transform the way you work with others.

Welcome to the world of ease and merriment of Ben Zander!

To centre our sense of self in our relationships

Feeling stuck?  Not looking forward to 2010?

From guru to psychologist, all the people who know about this sort of thing say the same thing.  Start close in.  Begin with everything and everybody right here in life with you now.

“Arrgh,” you say, “That is exactly what I am trying to get away from!”

Uh-uh.  You are trying to get away from the feelings of frustration, irritation and stuck-ness.  You simply need some places to push off against.

Ask some questions

This is what I want you to do ~ ask some questions.

  • Who is around me?  What is around me?
  • What does my relationship with [these things/people] want more of?
  • What’s working, and what should I be celebrate?
  • What would help create a sense of fun and ease in this relationship?

and . . .

The checklist where I found these questions is at WidgetWonder.  I just worked through the whole list checklist for reviewing 2009 and thinking about 2010.  It asks much deeper questions than most goal setting and life purpose blogs.

How we hold the conversation

It is how we hold the conversation.

Consider the space

  • The list helped me put my finger about what I will be doing to contribute to my relationships with others and allow them to be more enjoyable

Store away what is no longer needed

  • The list helped me put my finger on what I feel is ‘done and dusted’ and what I still need to resolve, one way or another. It was amazing how quickly I could resolve things once I had put things like that.

Include more people!

  • The list reminded me that all my plans for 2010 depend upon other people.   What support do I need?  How is this a community project?  The list helped me identify where I was trying to take 100% responsibility when the project is not my responsibility alone.  The responsibility is mutual.  Taking a step back and asking what support do we need to make this happen together has been an invaluable for me.

Clearing our minds for 2010

I strongly recommend you print out the list at Widgetwonder and work through it.

It will help you clear your mind, relax, and enjoy 2010 no matter what it brings.