Friday, December 14, 2012

A new way

I work at a newspaper in Connecticut. It's not close to Newtown, where nearly 30 people -- many children -- were shot in an elementary school today, but Connecticut's a small state, and the story broke on our deadline. For three hours straight pretty much all I did was look and listen to what news outlets with people on the scene were reporting, assess the sources and the contradictions, listen to pundits filling time while waiting for a much-delayed news conference, and write and rewrite.

The truest thing I heard in that time was from an expert on some news show, talking when all that was known was that a gunman had gone into an elementary school and there were dead people, who said, "We have to find a different way" to handle anger or frustration or whatever emotion makes this seem right.

We have to find a different way.

And that starts with a different way of communicating with those who disagree with us. I support gun control. I see no reason why people need to have guns -- and no logical reason whatsoever why ANYONE needs automatic or semi-automatic weapons. But if people who support gun control harden and face off with people who oppose it, all we do is increase aggression. And this world already is swimming in a sea of aggression.

Oddly enough, this morning -- before hell broke loose -- I was reading an article on how to deal with difficult people at work, "What's the Secret to Communicating with Irritational, Angry, or Just Plain Crazy People?" by Eric Barker. He did research; I'm just going to quote him.

We all have to deal with our share of hotheads and crazies. What does research say works with them?
First off, you can’t get angry too. Because then there are two crazy people arguing. While very entertaining to onlookers, this doesn’t accomplish much.
Tell yourself they are having a bad day and that it’s not about you:
Telling yourself that an angry person is just having a bad day and that it’s not about you can help take the sting out of their ire, a new study suggests… the researchers monitored participants’ brain activity and found that reappraising another person’s anger eliminated the electrical signals associated with negative emotions when seeing angry faces.
They’re being crazy. You’ll want to shut them up or talk over them. Don’t. It’s a natural reaction but it doesn’t work.
They don’t think they’re wrong. They’ll just interpret it as a status game where you’re trying to win. Stop being so sure you’re right and listen.
But here’s the important part: just shutting up is not enough.
Listening isn’t just listening. It’s letting the other person know you’re listening.
This is “active listening.”

Active listening is a lot like what we do in meditation. It's about putting your practice into practice. You listen without judgment. You inquire -- a sort of active contemplation to find out what's under the surface, which is what really needs to be addressed. And you acknowledge it. Both participants can see that the enemy isn't what it appears to be and can find ground to move forward instead of getting stuck.

Active listening, Barker says, is the first thing FBI hostage negotiators use to de-escalate incidents and save lives. It is how behaviors can change.

The Dalai Lama has said that the last century was a century of bloodshed. This century, he says, can be the century of dialog.

May it be so.

May all beings everywhere be safe.

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