When thinking about most conflicts, large or small, I find myself mentally organizing people’s responses to the conflict into particular rungs within this ladder (a personal model adapted from the work of the Arbinger Institute, Sustained Dialogue, and other sources)….
My side is good, righteous, brave, wise, noble, thoughtful, moral, rational, etc.
The other side is cruel, evil, inhuman, immoral, irrational, ignorant, etc. and may be terrorists bent on the destruction of something I hold dear (literally in some situations, figuratively in others).
I acknowledge that the other side may feel just as firmly about its beliefs on this issue as I do about my beliefs.
I don’t agree with the other side’s view, but I realize that this view exists and that the other side disagrees with me for reasons that IT thinks are valid (even if I don’t think those reasons are valid).
I acknowledge that while they and I may have some fundamental disagreements on the issue at hand, I do, in fact, have some things in common with the people on the other side and may even agree with them on some (possibly small) aspects of the issue.
I believe that (at least most of) the people on the other side are good people, though I may disagree strongly with them.
While I firmly maintain my own identity and my beliefs that my own views on the issue are correct, I acknowledge that people on the other side may have different views that may also be correct, even if those views seem to be in conflict.
That there are legitimately pros to my side and cons to my opponents’ side does NOT imply that there are no pros to my opponents’ side nor does it imply that there are no cons to my side–my opponents may indeed be CORRECT about the pros to their side and the cons to my side.
It is always valuable to be intentional about exploring for the good on the other side.
This ladder rung is best defined by MLK, Nelson Mandela, and Anne Frank:
“When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.” — MLK, Jr. (11/17/57).
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” — MLK, Jr.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” — Nelson Mandela
“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other–not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learned how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” — Nelson Mandela
- This ladder applies to conflicts on a wide spectrum of sizes: from small interpersonal disputes (with a neighbor, boss, family member, etc.) to major international conflicts and everything in between.
- Moving up this ladder is much easier said than done; moving up this ladder is much easier for conflicts you can see from afar. Regardless, it is important to move up this ladder.
- It may sometimes appear that gains can be made by your side by moving to lower levels of the ladder. It may indeed be correct that you can score short-term gains. However, every time you do this, you make it harder for yourself, others on your side, and (particularly) people on the other side to move up the ladder in the future.
- Personally moving up the ladder does not require others on your side to also move to higher levels of the ladder and does not require others on the other side to also move to higher levels of the ladder. In the short-term, it may be unlikely for anyone else to do so, but in the long run, the higher you move on the ladder, the more possible it is for others on all sides to also move up the ladder.
- Regardless of whether you initially care about the interests or lives of people on the other side, it is always in your own side’s (long term) self-interest to move higher up this ladder.
- The longer aconflicthas been happening and the angrier the participants, the more likely the following:
- Many people are at low levels on the ladder.
- The conflict may only be resolvable in the long-term by moving towards the top of the ladder.
- Most propaganda exists at level 0. In fact, a good test of whether you are sharing propaganda (on Facebook, for example), is if the item you are posting fits nicely at this level.
- Sharing level 0 propaganda may indeed be helpful in the short-term (see the bullet above about short-term gains). However, it is not in your side’s best interest in the long-term (let alone the best interest of everyone else) as it puts downward pressure on everyone– pushing them towards low rungs of the ladder.
- Adaptive Leadership is a powerful framework for thinking about how to empower people to move to levels 3 and 4 and how to push them to productively work to resolve the conflict once they are there.
- Rungs 0 and 1 refer to the other side as “it.” Rungs 2, 3, 4 refer to people on the other side as “they.” This is intentional.
- Most of this is written in terms of “my side” and “the other side.” In reality, in many conflicts there may be lots of sides (not just two). Moving higher up the ladder may help you see more of those sides.
Think of some conflicts you are currently involved in or aware of. Think of some small scale interpersonal conflicts and think of some large scale political or international conflicts.
For each conflict you thought of, at what level of the ladder is your current thinking? Do you want to move to a different level? Why or why not?