It's not necessary to be a government agent provocateur. Even the most well meaning among us can create chaos and division unless we consider our words and actions carefully..." Mike Gray, Common Sense for Drug Policy
We’re human beings and we’re all different. Hardly an enlightened statement, and while characteristic of many organizations, it is exceptionally true for the medical marijuana movement. Unlike trade, religious, or illness-based organizations, groups attract people from all walks of life: different races, ethnicities, sexes, ages, income, backgrounds, illnesses, personalities, viewpoints, and even taste in pets or colors. While we pride ourselves on diversity – we have the advantage of members with varied skills – our differences also cause problems and may result in conflict.
Conflict can be overwhelming because it diverts attention away from the original mission. Focused on solving internal transgressions, real problems get ignored. Conflict can fracture efforts that may require a harmonized front in order to be successful. Ultimately, it can result in the loss of valuable members and the contributions that they would otherwise have made.
The field of conflict resolution has exploded in recent years, and theories abound concerning what should be done to avert destructive discord. I maintain that the potential for conflict is inevitable and innate. Retaining the ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality, our core being is programmed to harass those who divert from community norms, and we must work at being our better selves to overcome this inherent tendency.
I would like to offer a few suggestions as to how to reduce conflict so as to regain harmonized motion toward the unified goal. These represent behaviors rooted in our better selves. They may be applicable to both organizations and individuals.
No Negativity. Negativity can be identified by parsing written or spoken words for phrases that contain some form of ‘no’, ‘never’, or ‘not’. He doesn’t. They can’t. You won’t. Negatives often accompany a benchmark or judgment framed as black and white. The solution lies in rephrasing negative statements in the positive. For example, consider the sentence, “Bob never pays his bills.” Maybe has, or maybe he hasn’t. The truth usually rests somewhere between the two extremes. Rephrasing, “Bob has failed to make bill payments.” may reflect a more correct picture of Bob’s payment history.
Just the Facts Ma’am. Rephrasing a negative in the positive requires a test of the facts. Anyone who has been hurt by being falsely accused understands a misapplication of the facts. When the negative statement about Bob is rephrased in the positive, the next step is to validate it. Is it true? Does it make sense? Is it logical? With research, we find that “Bob mailed his January and February car payments five days after their respective due dates.” This more accurate statement partially matches the original “Bob never pays his bills,” but with four months of on-time payments since then, that original negative statement about Bob is obviously false and therefore hurtful.
Purposeful Procrastination. Our inclination is often to address a conflict immediately after identifying it. But if the problem is phrased in the negative, it stands a good chance of being inaccurate as pointed out above. Sorting out problems, rephrasing them, and analyzing them in the positive all take time. If we label Bob a deadbeat before we research his payment history, we have clearly done him a disservice. Further, if we act on this perception, conflict will likely ensue. He’d certainly be angry. Therefore, it’s important to take the time necessary to fully think out the conflict at hand. Spend some quiet time reflecting on the situation. Examine it from all angles. Ask questions. Test the facts. Purposefully delay action until you are comfortable with your command of the problem from multiple perspectives.
The Art of the Apology. Many damaged relationships have been healed by a simple apology. Apologizing for wrongdoing, even if unintentional, has become a mark of character in our 24/7 society where even the smallest infraction may be video-streamed to millions. Apologies for occurrences vastly outside of one's control or as a result of coercion sound insincere and, of course, are factually incorrect. That is why apologies must reflect a voluntary self-awareness of the mistakes that have been made and the errors of fact and judgment that led them. Further, an apology is incomplete if it fails to look to the future and find action steps to keep the problem from recurring.
Do Unto Others. As you examine a problem, try to imagine it from the point of view of other people. If you walked in their shoes, would you behave differently? Reflect on how Bob would feel if you said in his presence that he never pays his bills. Would you be embarrassed? Would you be hurt? It has often been said that one should never make comments behind the backs of others that couldn't be said to their faces. Better phrased in the positive, when you speak of others, pretend they are in the room or accidentally listening on the phone. It may be necessary to be critical, but if you are confronted by your comments and have applied this filter, you will be seen as honest and credible among all parties. As one, quite famous person put it, “Do unto others as you would have others to do you.”
You may have noticed that the above suggestions resemble the rights accorded to us by the U.S. judicial system. However critical we are of it with respect to our issue, we still understand that it is based on the presumption of innocence. Criminal charges are almost always phrased in the positive (possession of drugs, failure to yield right of way, or use of property without permission) and require facts, proof, and deliberation before rendering a conviction and applying a sanction. Surely, we would accord to ourselves and our colleagues the same rights we would expect from the criminal justice system.
In the final analysis, conflict among very different human beings may be inevitable. But, we are ultimately judged less by the conflict itself and more by how it is handled and resolved. Positive, well-thought out, and properly timed solutions stand a much better chance of creating the harmony necessary to accomplish difficult tasks. Say, the legitimization of cannabis in the State of Ohio.
© 2007 Mary Jane Borden
Let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on Earth,
the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father,
brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother,
in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me,
let this be the moment now.
With every step I take,
let this be my solemn vow,
To take each moment and live each moment in peace, eternally.
Let there be Peace on Earth,
and let it begin with me.