Transforming Conflict Attitudes

On Sunday, a group of 25 senior citizens gathered to watch a 1934 movie about a family torn apart by conflict over 15 years. In summary, the conflict was between a mother, M, and her daughter-in-law, S. The rift got deeper and uglier, until M’s 13 year old grandson reached out to her and brought her together with his mother, S, and father we’ll call Y.

My role at the gathering was to facilitate the post-movie discussion. We began by asking who in the audience blamed M, who blamed S, who blamed the son Y, who blamed S’s mother CD,  who blamed S’s father, J.

Once the votes were in, we began the conflict analysis of the characters’ motivations.

Defenders of M pointed out she was a single mother who loved her son Y, gave him and S a secure life, and wanted S to be a good wife and S was ungrateful.
Defenders of S argued that M was overbearing and would not allow S to be mistress of her own home.
Defenders of CD contended she was standing up for her daughter S when M tried to control everyone.
Defenders of Y explained he was not weak, but torn between his love for his wife S and his mother M.
Defenders of J said he was just goofy and did not mean any harm.

As we discussed the characters’ inner lives and reasons for acting as they did, we saw the parallels to our own lives and how we assume others’ intentions are good or bad according to our own beliefs. When we worked to understand each characters’ intentions, motives, reasoning and emotions, we became less blaming and judgmental, and became more tolerant and compassionate.

By the end of the discussion, we agreed there was more than enough blame to go around, but each character was simply trying to do the best he or she could under the circumstances.

After that, the audience had no accusations left for the character they had once voted was the villain of the movie. Now, can we apply this exercise of compassionate listening to our own lives and conflicts? 2009 will be more peaceful if we can.

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