Saturday, February 11, 2006

Making peace

Before I saw PBS's Frontline story on global sex slave traffic, (See The Slave Trade--Alive and flourishing in every country including this one.) I promised a discussion on ways to handle the inevitable interpersonal clashes that come our way.

Turns out, the two may be more related than you might think.

I will start by asking a question and telling a story.

Have you ever encountered an individual in your work with whom it seemed every interaction was fraught with conflict, misunderstanding, even betrayal?

Was a time, I worked with a woman--call her Miranda--who in my youthful, judgemental state, I dubbed The Screamer.

Inevitably angry, Miranda seemed incapable of speaking in a normal tone of voice.

One day I was the target of her bile. In a 20-minute tirade, she hurled accusations that bit me to the core.

Anger boiled. Time gone by, I would have given as much as I got, but I was learning new skills for conflict resolution and wanted to live by them if I could.

I attempted reasoning with her. She would have none of it.

I attempted using the broken-record, I-statement techniques of assertiveness training classes (from the Eighties--are you familiar with these communication tools?).

Miranda simply talked over me. Each time I spoke, she interrupted and began her tirade again.

When she was finally out of steam, in the calmest tone I could muster, I told her it looked like we were not going to reach an agreement. Surprisingly, she was silent.

Unable to control my shaking voice, I told her I understood she was angry, I was sorry for the difficult spot she was in, and that my intention was to support her in any way I could.

She said nothing.

I told her I felt she was unfair in her accusations, that I deserved her respect as another human being who also worked hard in pursuit of our organizational goals, and that I wanted an apology for her behavior.

Then I closed my mouth and breathed, raggedly for sure, heart pounding so hard I thought it might break.

At first Miranda screamed again.

Shaking visibly, tears flowing, head pulsing with the desire to tell her what-for, I prayed to anyone bigger than me for the universal salve, compassion.

Singlemindedly shutting out her voice, her cutting words, I focused on an imaginary Miranda--calm, serene, and hearing me.

Immediately, her voice dropped to conversational level. She said she could not talk about this any more and hung up.

Puzzled by Miranda's sudden soft tone, unnerved that she had abruptly ended the conversation with no resolution, still filled with anger and hurt, I wanted desperately to retaliate. I wanted someone bigger than me to hurt her as she had hurt me.

I also wanted very much to make peace with Miranda. I had a growing sense that if we are ever to achieve peace in the world at large, it must begin in moments like this.

That evening, I meditated for some time. Then I prayed.

I prayed to the Great Spirit.

For you, the Higher Power may have another name. Perhaps you pray to Allah, to God, to Jehovah, Qwan Yin, or the Goddess. I have absolute faith that the Higher Power by any name, who loves the children of the Earth, sees the intention of our hearts.

Though I felt more vengeful than loving, I prayed that Spirit heal my heart of the anger and hurt I was not yet ready to let go. Righteous in my rage, I wanted to hang onto it, feel it, express it. The tiny part of me that believed peace is possible, prayed on.

I asked that Spirit shower Miranda with love I did not feel, with the tenderness that Spirit feels toward all the beings of the Earth, no matter our behavior.

Fill Miranda's heart so full of love, Spirit, that she knows only love, can feel only love.

Heal her of all that causes her to behave this way toward others, toward me.

Heal the wounded child that grew up to need to hurt others.

Salve her. Bring love into her life so full, so fresh, so lasting that she need never hurt another again.

Heal me, that I might see her as the perfect being you see.


The following day as I readied for work, I continued this prayer. On the way to work, and entering the office, I said this prayer.

Even then, I did not feel the love for Miranda that surely Great Spirit felt for her.

Guess what? That morning, Miranda the Screamer apologized. In a voice soft, conversational, and sincere, miraculously she apologized.

For the remainder of my time in that position, Miranda was a different person. I became quite fond of her.

Human nature being what it is, inevitably conflicts occur in any organization.

When I feel betrayed or hurt by another's actions, if I am able to pause, breathe, and pray for loving kindness to come to the fore, those relationships tend to improve instantly.

The times that I hold onto my anger and hurt, the times I do not call on the love of Spirit when I have none in my own heart for the other individual, are the times the conflict deepens.

Try it the next time you feel injured by another.

Let me know how this concept works for you.

Then, begin thinking about utilizing the power of peaceful intent and love to help heal the hearts of those who do harm in so much more egregious a manner--such as the individuals who enslave and torture others for their pleasure.

This is one way we might build Ordinary right now.

I welcome your feedback and dialogue.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The slave trade--alive and flourishing in every country including this one

I interrupt the regularly scheduled post, a follow-up to "Chi choen? - What's the point?," to acknowledge a heightened awareness to the human trafficking going on, perhaps in our very neighborhoods--yours and mine.

Think you are immune? That it does not affect you?

Read on and tell me what you think at the end.

The other night I stumbled across a PBS Frontline report on the sex-slave trade in Europe. Not that it occurs only in Europe. There is more than enough going around every city of the United States. (See Sex Trafficking of Women in the United States."

In their report, the Frontline producers told the story of a Moldavian husband in his desperate search to get his kidnapped wife back from the violent pimp to whom their acquantaince had sold her in Turkey.

Sex slavery and atrocities against women are not new, of course. Inexplicably, men--and all too often their female procurers/enforcers--have been enslaving women, children, even other men for millenia.

Is it merely naivete that makes me think by now we human beings should have learned to behave better?

Watching the Moldavian family through their ordeal, hearing the stories of the other 4 women the story profiled, listening to the bravado of the kidnapper who got caught and slapped with 5 years probation, trying to wrap my mind around the appalling statistics--all left me nearly paralyzed with despair.

What hope can there be for the human family when such cruelty continues unabated?

The fact that men across the socio-economic spectrum in every country--read doctors, lawyers, dentists in any city in the USA--buy women, abuse them, rape them, force them to perform unimaginable acts, beat them, then go home to their families and behave, presumably, like gentlemen, is beyond cognition.

Do you know someone like this? Do you understand what causes this behavior?

Do you know how to heal the wounded souls who perpetuate this flourishing business? For it is only in healing the perpetrators that the business of sex, domination, power, and slavery will wither and die.

Frontline reported that one woman, trafficked and sold to a pimp in Turkey, escaped and ran to the car of a police officer who immediately returned her to her captors.

It has always been so. Madames and pimps know that when police and judges participate, chances of being raided and shut down are slim.

There is to be no rescue, no respite for women sold into slavery.

In Ordinary, of course, where human beings are raised from infancy with love and taught to respect all other beings, these things do not happen. Indeed, such behavior was unheard of in Ladakh before Westernization. (See Learning from Ladakh.)

In our lives, yours and mine, these things exist every single day.

Not long after I moved to this city, police raided two homes in a neighborhood where I had only shortly before looked for housing. It was a nice neighborhood. The properties were well kept.

Dozens of young women, smuggled into this country, were imprisoned in the homes, whose exterior revealed nothing of the atrocities occurring inside, and forced into prostitution.

In this extraordinarily beautiful city, in this country where we think of ourselves as egalitarian, democratic and civilized, in homes not so far from my own, men--possibly my neighbors?--were buying women who had no immigration documentation, no way out of their locked rooms, no escape.

How to feel compassion for the men--and the women who assist them--who would use other human beings so?

How to respond with love toward those whose actions are void of any shred of kindness?

How to heal the psyche of perhaps an entire nation, a world, that makes violence against women a regular part of our entertainment diet?

How to put a stop to the notion that one human being has a right to use another?

As so often before, I hear the words of Pema Chadron, "Start where you are."

Where are you in this? Where do you think we should start?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Chi choen - What's the point?

The Ladakhi have a saying when conflict occurs, "Chi choen? (What's the point?) Anyway, we have to live together."

Saying this, they smile and, according to Helena Norberg-Hodge in Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, shrug off irritations and annoyances.

Even egregious breaches of confidence and trust are shrugged away with a broad smile.

The beauty of this is that the Ladakhi truly let go of ire. No subsurface tensions bubble and boil waiting an eruption. No stomach ulcers, heart disease, alcoholism fester from swallowing unfaced anger or pain.

Norberg-Hodge attributes this lack of bile in Ladakhi relationships to the fact that the children are raised by their entire family. Grandfathers can be seen carrying an infant. Older brothers and sisters play with or feed the baby routinely. Indeed, any one in the village will respond lovingly and immediately to a child's need.

Ladakhi children are constantly and lovingly attended.

Gracefully trained, never over-indulged, simply loved every moment of their lives, happy Ladakhi children grow up to be happy adults who believe that living together in harmony is more important than momentary disappointment.

The Village of Ordinary and its sister villages are patterned after the Ladakhi model.

While parents and close family members are the primary caregivers, the entire village, older children and adults, look after younger ones, always ready with a hug, a listening ear, attention to the child's state of mind and needs.

In such an environment, children learn early on how to handle conflict in their relationships and within themselves.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow, architect of the Hierarchy of Needs, in Toward a Psychology of Being, suggests that when a child's every need is met, the child matures to a fully self-actualized human being.

Unhindered by the psychological baggage of unmet needs, the adult is capable of reaching her full potential.

She is not bogged down, wasting time trying to gain the respect of the father who was unable to love her, the mother who met her basic needs of food and shelter but could spare no time to listen and engage with her child.

While Maslow's theories are controversial, his colleagues agree on one thing: Well-loved children, taught personal responsibility and respect for others from the get-go, grow up to be healthy, happy adults.

Next: given that most of us did not grow up with the joyous nurturing of the Ladakhi, how do we handle the inevitable interpersonal clashes that come our way?