Real Leaders

How to Perfect the art of Passive Conflict

There is one fundamental fact of leadership that we modern, performance-obsessed executives struggle with: repetition of ‘wrongful’ patterns. However, the path to perfection runs through every instance of imperfection.

2016 has begun with an explosion of political controversy in Spain. The Catalan region finally appointed its new governor, who swears they will become an independent nation from Spain in 18 months time. Meanwhile, the entire country has agonized as several ruling parties fight about putting together the needed majority of votes to choose a new president, or repeat the elections. Social networks and newspapers sizzle with anger, indignation, disgust and all kinds of violent, though strictly verbal, confrontations.

You could say we are repeating the same sanguinary conflicts that drove us to our civil war in 1936. Only we’ve brought it down a notch: from gunshots to verbal insults, from bomb explosions to economic manipulations, from exiles and murders to political humiliations. It feels just as horrible, but people aren’t dying.

As I turned in my last article to Grant, the editor of Real Leaders, he shared how uncertain and painful the current situation in South Africa is these days. Racism seems to be peaking again. On the other side of the world the United States has recently experienced several episodes of outrage at police brutality with Afro-Americans. And circling back to Europe, we’ve seen Germans and Dutch citizens coming out on the street to express their opposition to immigration policies concerning war refugees. It feels like every region of the planet is repeating their worse and most gruesome historic episodes. And this scares us. As it should.

Maybe the world is going to hell. And maybe we’re only repeating what happened in the past in order to finally resolve it.

We release old, trapped emotions on all sides of conflicts, wars, persecutions, genocides and all those truly awful things we humans have been doing to each other for the last seven thousand years. My hopeful guess is that all this verbal violence will not go further than a few isolated incidents of physical brutality. By reliving it we may appreciate how much our parents and grandparents paid to help us grow into more sophisticated people, understanding and supportive of the subtle differences found in others.

Because having gone through two world wars and hundreds, if not thousands, of awfully destructive conflicts on local levels. We have grown as a species. We have understood that there are two sides to every story. We have heard our families cry for those who died finding food or safety for their loved ones. We have written books and made films that interpreted what was going on. We attributed evil motivations to enemies who were just as scared and lost as we were at the time. We’ve read articles and watched documentaries about how very much it hurt them too.

Around the globe in many, many families, we have carried the victims’ angry impotence and the conquerors’ awful guilt.

Now we know what happens when you resort to violence. Now we know that nobody wins and everybody loses. Even if we forget from time to time.

Grant and I attended the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates here in Barcelona on the exact day of the terrorist attack in Paris last November. I remember sitting in the beautiful halls of a centric historical building that Friday, listening to wise, articulate people demand peace. “But peace can’t come without a lot of painful emotional release… a lot of hard work on all sides!” I thought to myself. It’s so easy to act peaceful. It’s so hard to actually be at peace.

It’s like a marriage. Both parties want the marriage to work. They both want to find the sexy closeness they once enjoyed. They both want the fighting to stop. And yet, many end in divorce. Some even go as far as having one last baby in a desperate effort to save and restart a mutual feeling that simply won’t come back. It’s not until many years later, once they’ve rebuilt their lives with new spouses, that they find the original peace and intimate friendship they once lost. Once they’ve worked through all their anger, frustration, fear and negativity about each other, they may come out the other side as allies, sharing the upbringing of their kids, listening to each other’s marital problems, and remembering why they once loved each other. More importantly, they will have recognized, accepted and owned their own roles in the destruction of the marriage.

This is the price of peace. Of real peace. We can stop a war, dress up, have a huge party and announce to the world we’re done fighting.

But until we surface all our pain, until we clean out all our wounds… Until we can truly look at our enemy in the eye with deep authentic gratitude for how much he or she helped us grow personally and spiritually, we will only be trying.

Looking at the world today it becomes apparent we’re on our way to finding that deeper, authentic state of true, grateful peace. We’re not there yet. And that’s why we need to repeat our conflicts. We need to vent that ancient anger we’ve been holding onto – on a personal, family and national level. It has to come out. There is no other way of resolving the past. As somebody once said, “the only way forward is through.”

Let us all become aware of what we’re feeling and experiencing. Let us all find safe spaces to express our anger, resolver our pain, release our fear. I send many clients to do kickboxing or other sports which involve kicking, screaming, hitting and growling. It allows them to release anger without hurting anybody. It helps them come to terms with the fact that they do feel terribly, horribly angry. And that there are plenty of good reasons for that anger when they look back at the history of their families. It’s only after kicking and growling that they can start talking about it.

Let us all repeat our ugly rants against historic enemies in situations which minimize the pain we inflict on others.

If we are wronged by those who blindly repeat their own destructive patterns, let us repeat the pattern of victims with acute self-awareness. Because every tear we cry will bring us closer to those who were wronged before us in our families. Every spasm of pain we surrender to will release the patterns of injustice… for ourselves, and also for our children.

I have no crystal ball. I know not where this climate of verbal violence will carry us. What I do know is this: no death is meaningless. Every tear and every loss is deeply significant, honorable and worthy. Physical destruction builds and enlarges future consciousness just as death creates new life. Let us honor and respect every price paid by humanity in order to give us, here and now, the chance to live in truly deep, conscious and effortless peace.


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