Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Devarim 73 – Resolving the Heart of the Conflict and baseless Hatred

This week's Torah-Bible reading Devarim starts the 5th book of Moses, Deuteronomy. Devarim is always read   on the Sabbath before the fast of 9th of Av , a day where Jews reflect on the causes of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem - baseless hatred and destructive human relationships.  The temple will only be rebuilt when people are worthy of a temple by being  loving and caring towards one another.

With so much conflict on a family, community, national and international level one cannot but ask – What's getting in the way?

James Ferrel from  The Arbinger institute , in his highly recommended TedX Talk – Resolving the Heart of Conflict  – takes us first through a family scenario, then corporate life, international politics and then ends off with an emotional story about a father and son. I share here only his ideas and one example from an article not discussed in his Tedx Talk. 

He claims that we actually value problems, mistreatment, trouble, and conflict. He explains that according to Martin Buber, we don't have problems with people whom we count or identify with. We see their humanity and 'are made in God's image'. The others who don't count in our eyes are viewed as objects. It is easier to view or treat people badly if you ' objectify ' them. But objectifying people comes with a consequence – a deep inner need to justify that view. So the heart sees advantage in trouble and conflict, it provides the proof and justification that we are looking for. People then begin to value problems above solutions, conflict above peace and cooperation.

The book of Deuteronomy is Moses last sermon to the Israelites. He recounts their history together, especially the failed mission of the spies. The spies went on their mission with a negative view of the Promised Land. This created a need inside of them to justify that view. So they went into the land 'digging' for problems and trouble. They reported that it is '  a land that eats its inhabitants'. After the report of the spies, this negativity was directed against God himself. To justify this negativity, they said that it was clear that God's purpose in taking them out of Egypt was to destroy them in the desert by the hands of the Amorites.

The way out of this trap is to see the humanity of others and that they are made in God's image. In an article – James Ferrel writes about company executives, employees and representatives of the unions who spent some time in a holiday resort trying to see how they could cooperate much more efficiently. At the end of the 3 days, they attempted to resolve disputes which had been around for more than a year and that were scheduled for arbitration.

'They resolved the dispute in forty minutes , because – during the first 2 days together they solved the heart of the conflict that had been dividing them, which was the mutual objectification and blame for each other. Until they saw their conflict partners as people, with hopes and dreams and cares and fears as real as their own, they needed justification more than they needed resolution and were both unwilling and unable to find creative, mutually beneficial possibilities. They found too much advantage in problems to be able to find lasting solutions.' – James Ferrel.

We can now more easily appreciate how the Collaborative and Pro-active solutions approach - which focuses on collaborative problem solving -   mantra –' children do well if they can , and not children do well if they want to'-which we can apply to adults as well - , enables us to see their humanity , act with more compassion and instead of making problems worse than they are , make things better for all.


  1. I've read two of the Arbinger Institute books, and have found them very important in improving the ways I look at others. The principles go hand-in-hand with SDT's concept of autonomy support: it's not the behaviours per-se that define the quality of our relationship, it's how we feel about the person when we engage in these behaviours.

    I find it a daily struggle to overcome the tendency to objectify others!

  2. Thanks Nicolas for recommending the Arbinger Institute

    It is a challenge not to ' objectify ' people when one lives in a very sectarian society or belongs to a union or employers group that is in conflict with others. The same goes for individual in legal battles. |If one does not ' objectify' the other as a ' cheat' , you won't 'plan for the worst and you will be eaten alive. On the other hand problems are usually best solved when parties decide to sit down and work things out together so one needs to be able to switch modes.