Monday, March 11, 2013

Reconciliation - The Buddhist Answer to Conflict

Reconciliation Notes

Internal Reconciliation

For those who want to live peaceful and happy lives, reconciliation, meditation suggests, is the answer. When we are reconciled to what really is happening, instead of fabricating stories about what we think should be happening, we act in ways that build peace and confidence instead of anxiety and anger.

Consider this:
·      It only takes one for reconciliation.

And consider this:
·      Every situation is reconcilable.

Many of the fundamental “truths” we learn from meditation, such as impermanence and not-self, can be hard to reconcile ourselves with. So hard, in fact, that we dream of things that are permanent and substantial in an attempt to escape the inescapable conditions of our life. But such imaginings pull us away from the basic facts of our condition: we are impermanent beings, predisposed to suffering, conditioned by the world in which we live.

This is why the idea of reconciliation is so powerful. Reconciliation isn’t about overcoming our basic nature; it is about reconciling us to the way the world really is.

Reconciliation is where I have come to see that yes, this is what is happening, that these are just the conditions of the world as I perceive it in this moment, and that if I reconcile, neither attaching nor running, then peace arises. Reconciliation is when I no longer pick or choose, as Sengcan writes, when I no longer give my amygdala control of my mind, allowing it to jerk me around emotionally with its primitive assignments of affinities and aversions to everything.

Sitting in meditation, sitting with the present moment, just as it is, we are reconciled and at home.

Reconciliation matters
because the consequence of not reconciling is unending suffering.

Reconciliation is an internal event, something that comes from within us. As such it is always available to us. And so is the peace and well-being that arises from it.

External Reconciliation

It is one thing to reconcile oneself to what is happening in one’s own life–that’s internal reconciliation. It is, as we all know, wholly another thing to reconcile one’s differences with another person, which is external reconciliation. When there are differences, we start by attempting to find a mutual reconciliation. (If that doesn’t work, we can, of course, do it alone.)

(1) Agreeing to disagree is not a solution. It moves nothing forward and entrenches us in the validity of our story. (2) Compromising, which is what nations do when they create treaties and accords, where we get as much of what we wanted as circumstances will allow after battling it out, is not a solution either, for it leaves us unsettled and unsatisfied and often in a worse place than we started. (3) Just capitulating to another’s demands isn’t a solution either, for it leaves us with frustration and residual anger and reinforces ignorance rather than wisdom.

So, if we don’t want to suffer, we need to learn to reconcile our differences with others. And this is complicated: the closer we are to the other person and to the issue, the more difficult it is to see clearly.

To reconcile our differences with another person, when there is a disagreement, we must both rewrite the story in a way that leaves us both in harmony, both peaceful with the conclusion, both feeling amicable and at ease. Reconciliation is never about winning. It is, however, about trust.

Genuine reconciliation cannot be based simply on the desire for harmony. Ideally, it requires a mutual understanding of what actions served to create the disharmony, and a promise to try to avoid those actions in the future. This in turn requires a clearly articulated agreement about–and commitment to–mutual standards of right and wrong. At its heart, reconciliation distinguishes, for both parties, between right and wrong ways of handling differences.

We need right and wrong, but we also need to be careful how we use them. We need not to be capricious in our use of them, nor hypocritical. The fact that all phenomena are empty doesn’t mean that there is no right and wrong. We don't want to use the rhetoric of non-duality and non-attachment to excuse genuinely harmful behavior–leaving victims hopelessly adrift, with no commonly accepted standards on which to base redress through reconciliation.

Reconciliation is not forgiveness. Forgiveness is about blame, makes me the ultimate judge; forgiveness is about winning. Forgiveness is just one part rewriting a story to get our own way.

The solution lies not in abandoning right and wrong, but in learning how to use them wisely. Here’s a checklist of questions for this:

Perceived Wrongdoings

When a perceived wrongdoing is involved, we need to ask ourselves before confronting the other person:

Am I seeing clearly what has happened?
Am I motivated by kindness and compassion to reconcile, rather than a self-centered or self-serving need?
Really, am I trying to reconcile or trying to win, to get my way?
Am I sincere and clear on our mutual standards?
Can my words be believed?

Ideally, we should be determined to speak only words that are true, timely, gentle, to the point, and prompted by kindness.

Our motivation should be compassion, consideration for the welfare of all parties involved, and the desire to see the wrongdoing end. There should be an overriding desire to hold to principles of propriety.

When there is conflict, we should employ right speech and engage in the honest, responsible self-reflection. In this way, standards of right and wrong behavior, instead of being oppressive or petty, engender deep and long-lasting trust. In addition to creating the external harmony, this process of reconciliation also becomes an opportunity for inner growth.

Our goal should be always be willing to exercise the honesty and restraint that reconciliation requires.

When there is a simple disagreement about an event, time or place, for example, reconciliation is generally clearer than when “wrong doing” is involved. Wrongdoing is a reflection of our very strong attachments to beliefs and values; on the other hand, disagreements are less weighty conflicting stories.

Because all stories are fictions, insisting on one’s story over another’s story is arrogance, and arrogance is a no-no.

However, this would become nihilistic if there were no evaluative criteria. That criterion is appropriateness (the neutral word for the fundamental understanding of right and wrong, good and bad, as it arises from meditation and interconnectedness). Appropriateness is obvious if one is mindful and aware; it is the response that arises from wisdom.

Haven’t realized wisdom yet–fake it!