We all want peace — peaceful relationships, a peaceful life. We want an end to wars, bigotry, racism, and terrorism. Yet many of us, in our homes, workplaces and communities are struggling to have peaceful relationships with those we know. How can we ever expect that there will be peace in our world, when we harbor war so close to home?
I have just finished reading The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute. This small book is a must read and has helped me tremendously when it comes to being more peaceful. I still don’t get it right every day but I am certainly way more aware of my part in achieving it.
“When we regard our children, our spouse, neighbors, colleagues and strangers, we can choose to see them as either people like ourselves or as objects. They either count like we do or they don’t.”
“You care whether you are being seen as a person or as an object. In fact, there is little more you care about than this.”
In the book it talks about when we regard others as objects, then our heart is at war. When we regard others as we regard ourselves, then our heart is at peace.
The issue is that we are always seeing others as objects, as obstacles, or as vehicles or irrelevancies — OR we are seeing them as people and until I read this book, I never saw that. I would never have thought in a million years that my heart was at war.
So how can we tell if we are objectifying others or seeing them as people like ourselves?
We justify the reasons we walk past the homeless person, we justify why we don’t have sex with our husband, we justify why we don’t get up from the couch and help our spouse with the dishes, we justify why we give the bird to that other driver, we justify why we are angry at our kids, we justify why we won’t apologize, we justify why we didn’t do this and why we did do that. The act of justifying is a red flashing light and we need to pay attention to it. If you are justifying, then you are operating from a heart of war, you are seeing the person as an object, an obstacle, an inconvenience and you are no longer seeing them as you see yourself.
And it all starts with not honoring our senses.
In everything, we all have a sense of what we know is the right thing to do. If I choose to act contrary to my sense of what is appropriate, then according to this book, I commit an act of self betrayal and a choice to betray myself is a choice to go to war. And then I create within myself a new need — a need that causes me to see others accusingly, a need to justify what I’ve done or not done.
In the book one of the narrators tells how his father was a carpenter and how when he was a small boy he went out on a job with him. There was a crooked wall in the house they were in and his father explained to him that when something is crooked, and needed to be made straight, that is called “justifying”.
So how does this play out in real life? Say I am walking into a building and behind me, quite a few steps, is a woman who I know is also entering the building. I sense that I should stop, wait, and hold the door for her. Instead I decide not to and continue to walk through. I turn and see the door closing on her as she approaches it. As I walk away I start feeling the need to justify why I didn’t hold the door. “She’s too slow. I haven’t got all day. I need to get going”. In contrast, if I had waited and held the door for her, I wouldn’t need to justify any “crooked” behavior. When I saw her as a person, I wanted to help her by holding the door, but the moment I violate that basic call of humanity on me, that need to be considerate and to be helpful, then I need to justify myself for violating the truth I knew in that moment — that she is as human as me and not an object of inconvenience.
Interestingly this week as I have tried to be aware of this idea, I have observed something else. It is actually hard work justifying — way more time consuming than holding a door! Another interesting fact about justification, is it often leads us to feel the need to share our story with others.
In the book they describe it like this: “We end up gathering with allies — actual, perceived or potential — as a way of feeling justified in our own accusing view of others. So what begins as a conflict between two people spreads to a conflict between as many as each person enlists to his or her side. Everyone begins acting in ways that invite more of the very problem from the other side that each is complaining about.”
“When we betray ourselves, other’s faults become immediately inflated in our hearts and minds. We horribilize others. I do this because the worse they are, the more justified I feel. A needy man on the street suddenly represents a threat to my peace and freedom. A person to help becomes an object to blame.”
The other interesting thing the book says in those moments when we see others as people it isn’t because we aren’t dwelling on our own hardships. Rather, that we don’t dwell on our own hardships when we see each other. We do however, dwell on our hardships when we need to justify our behavior. Our hardships become an excuse at that point.
The authors tells us that we all grab for justification, however we can get it. But as grabbing for justification is something we do, we can also undo it. Whether we find justification in how we are worse or in how we are better, we can each find our way to a place where we have no need for justification at all. We can find our way to peace — deep, lasting, authentic peace — even when war is breaking out around us.
There is so much more in this book and I totally recommend that you read it for yourself – one of the most helpful books you’ll ever read.