I do not like conflict and used to shy from it growing up with 3 siblings.  I hated if my parents argued and I certainly wouldn’t think of arguing with friends.  I am the middle child and so it is thought we are the peace makers.  We mediate conflict because we do not like it or want it.  Unfortunately, conflict is part of life so we have to learn to deal with it.

As I honed my skills as a teacher, I was able to learn more effective skills in dealing with difficult situations.  But it was when I became a trained mediator and then trained students to be mediators, that I really honed these negotiating skills.  The profound lesson for me was communication.  We all want our say or to heard.  To have our concerns and feelings validated and dealt with.  The key I found was not to argue back or to speak, but to first listen.

And then as I became a school administrator it really hit home because your whole day is filled with issues, concerns and conflict.  So how do you deal with these conflicts, these issues, the stress.  You count to 10, you listen and reflect and offer solutions.  After all mediation is trying to get both parties to come to a common understanding and agreement.  And then there is karma….I could be negative, judgmental and unkind but then what purpose would that serve.  I know I am not perfect, but I want to try to find the balance between being fair and firm without being unkind.  But of course in the end you will have those situations and days that will leave you feeling out of sorts.  Questioning did you do the right thing, did you do no one harm?

Recently I have been reading the wisdom of the Dalai Lama. One of his more profound and recent posts was:

“I feel that compassionate thought is the most precious thing there is. It is something that only we human beings can develop. And if we have a good heart, a warm heart, warm feelings, we will be happy and satisfied ourselves, and our friends will experience a friendly and peaceful atmosphere as well. This can be experienced community to community, country to country, continent to continent.”

So how do we develop compassionate thought?  Many times we fall into the trap of judging.  And judgments are negative, they really do no good but are hard to break ourselves of the habit of rendering them.   Instead we need to work on being more constructive in what we say.

We can do this by giving informed opinions.  In this way we are opening the communication instead of closing it off.  We are saying that we are willing to communicate, to consider what is being said and perhaps even change those opinions.  Case in point getting cut off when driving or someone tailgating, being aggressive.  My first tendency is to think they are a jerk, but then I have trained myself to stop and think of times when I was in a hurry or had an emergency.  I am sure I behaved similarly since I am human too.  That stops the judgment and I let it go.

I don’t believe in the idea of “keeping the peace”.  It is not something one can possess like that.  I rather think of it more like cultivating than keeping.

cul·ti·vate: to promote the growth or development of (an art, science,etc.); foster.

So how do we cultivate peace?  I think it is much like cultivating a garden.  You need the following basics to prepare or cultivate a garden and so it is with peace:

1. A base of soil filled with good composted nutrients–think of the nutrients in the soil like the ideas everyone brings to the table.

2.  Water has been called the “lifeblood” of a garden, what the world and we are made of– so watering our ideas, giving them time to soak in and to contemplate what we are saying to one another is vital; listening.

3.  Aeration of the soil allows the compost, air and water to get to the roots of the garden–this is like the process of airing our differences, of open communication which allows the ideas to be nurtured at their base so they can grow.

4.  Controlling weeds so the water and nutrients go to the plants we want to grow–keeping the judgments and negatives to a minimum so we can cultivate the ideas that are likely to grow.

But to make a garden grow you have to constantly care for it; watching to make sure you water it when needed, weed and watch for pests.  It is ongoing process to balance all these aspects of cultivation; to achieve harmony in our garden, but the end result is worth it.  And likewise with nurturing peace.  To really achieve peace we must start with ourselves and cultivating or promoting inner peace.  From this our compassion can grow like the garden slowly toward a rich harvest.

“I wish everybody had a garden, and would work it himself.  The world would grow sweeter-tempered at once.” Anna Warner