Asking for the Courage to Get Past the Anger and the Blame
People’s lives are connected to one another, through family, friendship, business or other associations or relationships, and things go wrong in people’s lives. We all know this.
Expectations are not fulfilled. Anger and blame arise.
As a result, conflicts grow and from them disputes emerge that sometimes make their way to litigation, and then, sometimes to mediation. That is when I see them.
From my experiences in mediation it appears to me that, although negative, anger and blame are among the safest feelings for people to hold.
Anger and blame empower the person holding them and provide the fuel for the fight.
They support the rationale for launching, prosecuting, defending, maintaining or continuing the lawsuit, but not for ending it.
According to some who are more wise and thoughtful than myself (e.g. Kenneth Cloke and other giants of introspection in mediation), beneath the anger and blame reside deeper feelings, including the intimate, private, sensitive and vulnerable components of our human existence that are so hard for people to see in themselves or to face, but which spawn and nurture the anger, the blame, and the dispute.
They include these and others: shame, remorse, humiliation, hurt, loss, failure, disappointment, jealousy, lack of self-esteem, thanklessness, indignity, damaged or misplaced pride, you name it.
It is so, then, at least in my view, that anger and blame are defense mechanisms, so people do not need to go beneath those feelings to see themselves and to do something constructive.
From today’s internet research on “blame,” I discovered that Pema Chödrön, apparently an American Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition (according to http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8052.Pema_Ch_dr_n ), says this:
“We habitually erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating genuinely with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us and we do it with political systems, with all kinds of things that we don’t like about our associates or our society.
It is a very common, ancient, well-perfected device for trying to feel better. Blame others…. Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself. Rather than own that pain, we scramble to find some comfortable ground.”
In one of his most profound books, Kenneth Cloke writes;
“From a place of anger or blame, it is difficult to stimulate anything but counterattack or defensiveness. But from a place of openness and authenticity, vulnerability and honesty, empathy and introspection, it is possible to discover a different perception, gain a clearer sense of the other person, learn, and find common ground. I leave it to you to decide which is more dangerous: vulnerability or masks, authenticity or poses, honesty or triviality, empathy or distance. The answer will depend on your willingness to explore the conflicts within yourself.”
Cloke, Mediating Dangerously (Jossey-Bass, 2001), p 40.
With this in mind, I asked the disputants toward the end of a lengthy but insightful mediation session some time ago if they had the courage to get past their pronounced anger, and the blame that went with it, to reach for the solution to the problem they were facing, which solution was within themselves, within their grasp, and within their control.
Even as I asked this, I knew that this could be seen as letting the other person off the hook to some degree, yet I saw that it could also allow for some help the angry side AND to the other person, even some kindness and some rachmones (compassion) from the angry ones, which could possibly pave the way for forgiveness and future reconciliation among all.
Moreover, I hoped that it would also allow everyone to let go of the conflict and most of all to avoid further destruction of their relationship.
I did not get the answer that day. The mediation session concluded with the question left hanging. They had to think about it.
I have the feeling that the disputants themselves needed some time to see from the question what I saw — the opportunity for kindness and compassion, the end to destruction of the relationship, and the possibility of forgiveness and future reconciliation.
With the opportunity to think through their predicament, they will do something constructive for themselves and for each other, at least that’s my hope. Time will tell.
But I recognize that, as Ken Cloke says, “the answer will depend on [their] willingness to explore the conflicts within [themselves].” Id.
It also depends on their willingness and ability to be courageous in moving forward in their lives.
David I. Karp is a full time mediator of real estate and business disputes in Southern California. His website is at http://karpmediation.com .