This blog builds on part 1 from a few weeks ago, which started by reminding you that in animism, it’s not only not expected, but against our own nature to play nice with certain beings and energies. Earlier today I heard the following story:
Three cyclists were riding down a neighbourhood road when an older guy in sports car drove by and yelled, “Get off the road, assholes!”. Of course, cyclists are legally allowed to be on the road. The female in the group gave him the middle finger, angering the driver more and he turned his car towards her, then veered onto another street and into a carpark of a private club. She almost fell off her bike, scared and filled with rage. She blasted through the private club gate past the security guard while her fellow cyclists followed and called the police. You might be thinking that she was trying to get the driver’s plates, but she already got a photo of that. When he stepped out of his car she screamed in his face how wrong his actions were and how terrified she felt. He pushed her out of his way, and she raged even more and threatened to press charges for touching her. By this time her companions had gotten through the security gate. The security guard initially threatened to call the police and report the cyclists for trespass, but changed his mind when he saw the scene. Police arrived and explained to the driver that cyclists are allowed on the roads as much as he is, and told the cyclists they can’t charge the driver with anything but simple battery for pushing her because he veered his car away and didn’t hurt anyone. No one was happy with this outcome.
What a mess. Something to keep in mind with animism, and indigenous understandings of justice in general, is that they don’t necessarily align with Judeo-Christian morality. This may be the heart of why so often people feel things that happen are unfair or that ‘nice guys finish last’, because we are mentally programmed to expect rewards when we are ‘good’, whatever that means (often obedience to social norms it seems).
Five basic approaches to conflict resolution are: collaborating, compromising, accomodating, avoiding, and competing. In the story above, the woman and the driver are both competing. I think about a lion competing to be king of the hill – they’re getting their fight on. The security guard started out competing but then accommodated the cyclists, represented by a chameleon changing its colours to fit the situation. The other two cyclists are collaborating with their friend, like a school of fish sticking together, and the police officer is compromising by offering to charge the driver with something since the cyclists want him to be punished. Compromise is represented well by a zebra with its dual-coloured stripes.
What we don’t have in this scenario is anyone avoiding conflict, which I think would have been the wisest option. There were many missed opportunities for the cyclists to avoid escalating the conflict and potentially endangering themselves further. Let’s represent avoiding with a turtle who can stick its head in its shell.
If the cyclists had been growled at by an actual lion, they likely would not have tried to compete but would have done their best to avoid escalating the conflict. And if one of the cyclists had decided to angrily provoke the lion further, the other cyclists would have been less likely to collaborate and more likely if she got hurt to tell her that she had asked for it. Other than a sense of moral outrage and upholding of social norms, why do we behave so differently with people who exhibit threatening lion energy than with actual lions? One reason is when something is really important to us, we feel called to be warriors and stand up and fight. Some things – like protecting our family – feel worth dying for, and it can be too hard to live with the guilt and shame of knowing we didn’t try to stand up for our values. Another reason is that we are reacting in autopilot and have a tendency to compete when we feel threatened. If the reason is the latter, we can work on creating self-awareness and space to make more intentional decisions about addressing conflicts.
When we do choose to avoid a conflict, it helps to be aware of the Cycle of Indecision: ‘I feel bad. I should do something. Nothing will change. I gotta let it go. But I feel bad…’ I find when I avoid a conflict but over time it keeps coming up inside me, then I do need to do something to address it. That may involve talking to someone, creating art to express my emotions and tell my story, doing something ceremonial to keep the energy flowing without endangering myself, or finding a passion to advocate out in the world. For example, if I have a conflict with someone close to me, I tend to try to collaborate and talk it through when we are both less emotionally charged. But when I have a conflict with someone I don’t trust to collaborate with, I often write them a letter, leave it on my altar, and burn it so that the energy gets sent out in spirit.
Notice that no one in the story above was happy with what the police officer offered as a compromise to try to appease everyone and follow the law he’s working with. This is because of a common conflict resolution issue – people conflating positions with interests. The cyclists’ interests are (likely) being safe and respected while on the road, but their position is they want the driver to be punished for yelling at them and veering his car at the woman, but they may also have an interest in revenge. The driver’s interest is (likely) not being criminally charged and being able to express anger that cyclists are not riding single file (which they don’t have to). Maybe he has an interest in trying to change that law or have cycling lanes built on the road so he doesn’t have to share, or maybe he’s just interested in expressing anger, but his position seems to be ‘get out of my way’. We’d need to talk to everyone to unpack their underlying interests and potentially resolve the conflict in a more mutually beneficial way, but that’s not the job of the police officer. That’s something we could do through an Earth Ethos peace circle if everyone was open to collaborating and had been prepared to come together with open hearts and minds. In peace circle processes we use deep listening, open questions, I-statements, reframing emotionally charged language, and other tools to make it easier for people in competitive positions to feel safe to open up and connect with others. Because lions tend to be lonely, dangerous creatures – with only one male on top of the pride, he’s always scared of being bested by another and losing everything. Sometimes conflicts in our lives are like that, are all or nothing, but usually they needn’t be. We just can’t see another way. (Image from here.)
Exercise: Reflect on how you tend to approach conflicts. Maybe you tend towards different approaches at home or at work or with your kids or partner. Think about a recent conflict you were in with someone. How did you want to approach that conflict? What was your position in the conflict, and your underlying interest(s)? What about the person you were in conflict with?
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