At first glance, it may be difficult to put the words “conflict” and “love” in the same sentence. The two words seem to be contradictory. We associate the word “conflict” with much negativity towards a force or a person outside of us. On the other hand, we associate the word “love” with ease and positive feelings of wellness towards another.
However, our very fallacy stems from this idea of conflict as a “bad” thing. Once we frame our understanding of conflict as a thing to avoid, we are not equipped to deal with it skillfully. And since all of life involves conflict or the potential for conflict, we are then not equipped to be effective in the interpersonal realm. We also fall short of being effective in the meta-personal realm as we lose power and become a fallen angel.
And since the three dimensions to effective conflict resolution as I define them are awareness, compassion, and a negotiator’s toolbox, we ought to know a thing or two about the impact of love and compassion on conflict resolution. There is no doubt that the archnemesis of skillful conflict resolution is negative emotion. Instead of providing a measured response, negative emotions get in the way of effective advocacy. They have been linked to a greater likelihood that we won’t decipher weak from strong arguments, and a greater tendency to decide too quickly or to ignore details where details matter. Negative emotions also dilute your message and as you lose your composure, by the manner in which you deliver your message, you tune out the receiver.
Just as you can counter negative emotion through building awareness, you can also counter it by cultivating positive emotion. And research tells us that we can cultivate positive emotion through consciously inducing “gratitude.” In turn, inducing “gratitude” has shown to “inspire prosocial reciprocity” which is the hallmark of compassion. Compassion is the ability to take positive action in the face of the distress of others. As researchers have found “compassion” not only enhances the wellbeing of the person who engages in the compassionate act, but also has the added benefit of compelling us to aid those in need when they need it. As we become more compassionate, we are more likely to engage in win-win strategies that foster creative problem solving and enhance wellbeing for both sides. And if the end game is ultimately wellbeing and skillful conflict resolution is one of the tools to get us there, then we ought to pay attention to just how building compassion affects wellbeing.
Scientists tell us that as a fetus, we begin our life being 99 percent water. As adults we are 70 percent water and as old adults we are about 50 percent water. The famous Japanese scientist and researcher, Masaru Emoto showed the world through his research on water crystals that water has the ability to “memorize and transport information” and water crystals take on different shapes in response to different types of music and different words. For instance, when he exposed water crystals to classical music such as Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, the water formed “delicate” and “elegant” crystals. When he exposed them to violent heavy metal music with hateful lyrics, the crystals were “malformed” and “fragmented.” Even modern Jazz from the 1950s resulted in the formation of magnificent crystals.
Exposing water crystals to the word “Thank you” versus the word “Fool” also resulted in completely different water crystals. The results were again magnificent “hexagonal crystals” in the former versus “malformed” and “fragmented” crystals in the latter. The most magnificent of all crystals however were the ones exposed to the words, “love and gratitude.” He called them a “flower in bloom.”
This research has enormous application to our work as conflict resolvers and as everyday people encountering conflict. When we engage in hateful speech, the person we harm the most is ourselves. That is, through the vibrational energy of our words, we affect the water crystals that make up the majority of our body in a negative manner. This, in turn, affects our wellbeing. Conversely, by consciously inducing “love and gratitude,” we enhance our well-being and that of the other side. And by countering negative emotion, we maintain our composure, engage in skillful advocacy, and remain focused on creatively solving the problem. We are more effective, not less.