Struggling with Grace

It was like a signal had been transmitted from the atomic clock.

Students, colleagues, acquaintances, and even a few friends, descended on me with last minute requests. More time to finish an assignment, pleas for help in navigating an administrative maze, urgent calls for recommendation letters, and . . . well, just about anything that didn’t seem to move items off my personal to-do list.

Every time I looked at the growing list, I felt a little more harried and I slowly sank into the convenient and comfortable role of martyr and saint.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons/fabbio

Photo Credit: Creative Commons/fabbio

From somewhere, I heard the question, “Where’s your grace?”

Grace is a long-held virtue of all truly great people. Grace is granting unmerited assistance. Grace is patience. Grace is persistence. Frankly, grace is a slippery object for me to grasp.

True grace creates a defined space that often looks like a peace table or a kitchen table or a coffee table. This space, this grace, is filled with conversation . . . and forgiveness . . . and defined by accountability.

I sometimes wish that giving grace came easy. Honestly, I selfishly wish that withholding grace came easy, too. But the struggle between the two extremes brings value and depth and, ultimately, strength to my relationships with others.

And so, on this day sure to be filled with interruptions, I ask myself, “Where’s your grace?”

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On Disappointment

Photo Credit: Creative Commons/cubmondo

Photo Credit: Creative Commons/cubmondo

Yesterday, I received disappointing news.

Not devastating news. Not catastrophic news. Just disappointing news.

A project that I felt strongly about had been canceled. As I absorbed the message, I felt frustration and some degree of anger. I believed that others had made a poor decision.

Despite the fact that I’ve had many disappointments in my life and pride myself on knowing how to handle them, those first few hours were messy. Gradually, I made the conscious decision to move forward. Consciously, but cautiously, forward.

So, how do you handle disappointment? What path do you choose? What steps do you take?

For me, it goes something like this. When I find myself mired in disappointment, I . . .

  1. Breathe.
    Gather myself. Don’t force the thoughts. Minimize the need for answers.
  2. Take inventory.
    Assess the damage, if any, that the disappointment carries with it. Consider the opportunities the disappointment generates.
  3. Consider my personal contribution.
    Determine both the positive and negative ways I influenced the situation.
  4. Choose the “next right thing to do.”
    Some times, disappointment requires that we retrace our steps and try again. Other times, disappointment teaches us to move on. Regardless of what happens, a positive move is always available.
  5. Don’t let my disappointment be a burden for others.
    Disappointment can be contagious. My approach to that disappointment can be the difference between whether the situation goes fatally viral or hopefully productive.

I wish I could say that I launch into this response mode immediately every time I experience disappointment. Sometimes, it takes a little more time to begin to breathe. But what a relief when I do!

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Violence Brings No Honor

As we witness senseless acts committed against others, we desperately want answers to some nagging questions. The most important of those begin with “Why?”

BostonEarly in the investigation of incidents like that at the Boston Marathon yesterday, we don’t have specific answers. However, we know all too well the more general responses:

  • Someone acted out of revenge.
  • Someone acted from political motive.
  • Someone acted in an incapacitated mental state.
  • Someone acted out of hatred.
  • Someone acted from a state of evil

Or, someone acted because of some or all of the above.

If we were to ask that same “why” question to the perpetrators at this very moment, we might hear words like “duty” and “mission” and “honor.”

But there is no honor in violence.

Regardless of how high an individual might want to exalt their violent acts, honor is simply absent. And it doesn’t matter where we find the violence. It’s always wrong.

Some responses to the misguided behavior of others result in violence. Yet, our law enforcement and military experts will always tell us that a violent response is only appropriate as a last resort.

Setting bombs that will kill or maim people, whether they’re on a roadside in Afghanistan or in an urban setting like Boston, are not actions of last resort. Acts of aggression are never appropriate.

Since there is no honor in violence, our course now in the shadow of this tragedy, is one of reason and purpose. We should:

  • Concentrate our efforts on assisting the victims and the families of this violent act.
  • Encourage the investigation that will bring those responsible to account for their actions.
  • Support systems of justice that enforce the principles and values of a civilized people — even in the face of those who choose to act in an uncivilized manner.
  • Begin preparing a place of forgiveness in our hearts.

I know that many who read this will feel an understandable revulsion to the idea of forgiving those who kill and maim innocent people. Remember that forgiveness does not erase all consequences. Forgiveness works its wonders even when our “side” is completely innocent and doing what is fair and good. Forgiveness releases the person who was wronged to live a life of honor and without fear.

Forgiveness and the pursuit of justice are what make us the good guys. We must not confuse justice with revenge. True justice carries with it honor.

And honor cannot exist where forgiveness fails.


The Second C – Conversation

When it comes to conflict, are your only two options fight or flight?

In a previous post, I encouraged you, whenever you find yourself in conflict, to continue to communicate with those around you — particularly those with whom you disagree. I defined communication as “the measured, yet free-flow, of information that results from discipline and control.”

3Cs.079This proactive behavior of communicating is essential in practically every aspect of our lives. It’s particularly necessary when we’re in conflict — at least those conflicts in which our desired outcome is continued relationship within or without our current environment.

Yet communication can be void of an essential element that is necessary to move individuals to a point where they can successfully manage the conflict. That element is trust and trust is what transforms communication into conversation.

CONVERSATION is the exchange of feelings, thoughts, and beliefs that lead to understanding.

You can readily see that without trust and the safety it brings to the table, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs will rarely be shared.

In separate conversations precipitated by a post on, I noted several comments where individuals were really trying to get a handle on the concept of conversation. Specifically, there was a good deal of interest in finding ways to initiate and maintain conversation when individuals were in essential disagreement over the topic at hand.

That article dealt specifically with our concept of sin. I promoted the point that sin can’t be debated. Behavior is either sinful or it is not. In other words, the identification of sin is a divine task. The difficulty comes when we, as moral and spiritual beings, try to determine what is and isn’t sin as we work toward a more righteous life. What if my understanding and subsequent belief differs from yours?

Dealing with elemental spiritual belief, conscientious individuals can’t simply take a stance that what others believe is unimportant if, indeed, we are concerned about the spiritual essence of others.

We have to come to an understanding. We must build a refuge of trust that allows for our feelings, thoughts, and beliefs to unfold, not only for others, but also for our own review and consideration.

In yet another post on this blog, I suggest that true conversation requires individuals to carefully choose a position on a topic, express it as clearly as possible, and then be prepared for the questions to come. When I enter the arena of public conversation, I have to ask you to trust me to be responsible with my opinion or belief. You, in turn, should expect my trust.

If you truly believe that I am wrong in my stated belief, nothing in the nature of conversation requires you to dilute or ignore your belief. And trust develops when the same is true for me. In fact, full knowledge of where others stands is a baseline for building trust.

At the same time, nothing about disagreement should necessarily cause the conversation to end. However, cyclical conversations with no added insight or information tend to breed frustration. And frustration often precipitates a desire to control or to win. When winning seems remote, the conversation ends with serious negative consequences.

So what do we do in these situations? How do we continue in productive conversation?

  1. We continue to ask thoughtful questions that can help us understand one another.
  2. When presented with a thoughtful question, we value the opportunity, we soberly craft a respectful answer that reveals additional insight into our position, and we invite further questions.
  3. When we are at a loss on what else to say to move our conversation, we find different topics of conversation that build relationship and community.
  4. Within community, we often can return to those more difficult conversations.

S-b Logo.001In my work as a mediator, I naturally direct parties towards conversations about disagreements in the same manner as outlined above. We continue to ask the “why” questions as we seek to understand the underlying interests. We work hard to hear the answers to those questions. And, when we get stuck, we spend time concentrating on the common ground between us — the things we agree on — to explore the possibilities of doing some good as fellow travelers in this life. With the feeling of community that emerges, we often find the keys to better understanding on even the most divisive of issues.

And tremendous opportunity exists side-by-side with understanding.

It’s often said that people don’t like change. That simply isn’t true. We all like change. We just don’t like to be changed by someone else. Conversation — purposeful, friendly, and open — presents both me and you the opportunity to reflect and, if needed, change.

I’m involved in a lot of conversations. Many of them are with people I disagree with on matters both large and small. At the end of the day, I count success not by the number of people I have persuaded, but by the number of those who will return to the conversation tomorrow.

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In the Post Position

Last week I was flooded with frustration.

The backdrop was the United States Supreme Court and the buzz was about the two cases that involved homosexuality and issues surrounding whether or not same-sex relationships had certain rights and privileges within our system of laws and process.

The frustration I felt was from watching the way that people on both sides behaved in their public reaction to the event. To be fair, I did see a good number of individuals make their support known for one side or the other in a respectful manner. But those who didn’t, stepped far over the line of civility.

S-b Logo.001The frustration sparked something in me. I felt like I had to speak out about the ugliness that was unfolding. So, I wrote a post for my other blog. As I was writing it, I have to admit that I was anxious about making it public. I so wanted to say the right thing, in the right way. I wanted it to be about civility, about helpful conversation, and about better understanding. After all, I’m right in the middle of the development of the Better Understanding Project with my colleagues at the Duncum Center for Conflict Resolution — not to mention others who are standing by to join us as our plans materialize.

Yet, as I continued to review that article and my hand paused above the “publish” button, I felt reluctant to put my words in front of others. I found I wasn’t afraid of what others would think about what I had to say. I was afraid of going public because of things I had not said.

As I teach people about negotiation and healthy ways to build collaboration through negotiation, one of the important pieces is convincing negotiators to be clear about their position in regard to the matter at hand. True, there is a certain amount of posturing in most, if not all, negotiation.

But experienced negotiators know that at some point the parties to a discussion must set forth reasonable positions — and be clear about them. Clarity in positions is vital to the transaction. It defines the field of negotiation and sets the agenda for the discussion. Positions can and sometimes do change as people talk, listen, and reason together. However, the importance of the opening position cannot be diminished.

As I looked back over my article, I was pleased with all of the things I had said. I was hopeful that my readers would understand my point and feel genuine encouragement from me toward productive dialogue and conversation in place of fruitless shouting matches that were attacks on other individuals and not the issues.

What I realized was that I was standing and boldly inviting people to be in conversation about some truly important issues . . . and yet, I had not made my position known.

And so, I rewrote an entire section of that blog post. I took a position — I stated my belief on the underlying matter of sexuality. However, I did not use any words in that post to defend my position. It was not my intention to change any one else. I was simply asking for people to join in conversation. I hoped I made it very clear that, while I had a position, I was also more interested in showing respect to others than I was in winning any sort of a debate. In fact, I tried to convey the obvious fact that I’m not always right about things.

In truth, when I finally did hit “publish,” I expected very little to happen. My writing is not widely known or circulated. So, I sat and waited to see if anyone would even notice.

While I had a few negative reactions, the emails and comments were largely positive. I was particularly surprised by some emails I received from individuals who disagreed with my position, but were effusive in their gratitude that I had been transparent in saying what I believed while encouraging them to share their beliefs.

It was then that I realized how important and how responsible it is to attempt to think well about important topics and to quietly and humbly make your positions known. The power is not in the position you take. The power comes from the trust and respect you gain in entering the conversation.

Some issues — some conflicts — between us may never be resolved. But there is a great power from trust and respect that can overcome a lot of our problems when we sit and reason together. We may disagree, but we’ll always be moving toward better understanding and peace.

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