More Peacemaking

Dear Folks,
Last week I talked a bit about peacemaking, and I mentioned Dale Carnegie’s book “How to
Win Friends and Influence People” and Ann Garrido’s “Redeeming Conflict.”
George Thompson’s book “Verbal Judo.” is about deescalating tense situations, and many
police and other first responders are trained in this method. When someone gets belligerent to
us, the temptation is to respond in kind. As the anger wells up in is, we can be like a pressure
cooker without a safety valve until it bursts out. If we have an alternate response at the ready,
we can treat this as another task to be done, and approach it deliberately. The difficult
question is how to deescalate. It involves receiving the other persons energy and directing the
conversation toward a more useful direction. One important feature of this approach is that it
does not require the other person to have the same good intentions. A lot of Christianity is
treating people better than they treat us (See, for example Romans 12:9-21).
“Thanks for the Feedback” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen involves the dynamics of
getting and giving feedback, whether it is “affirmation, coaching, or evaluation.” It tried to do
a one paged summary of the book but failed miserably because there are so many facets to
this. I think the central takeaway is that how we see and hear ourselves is very often quite
different from the way that other people see and hear us. What we intend and what the other
perceives can be very different, and that disparity can doom a conversation if we are not
attentive to it.
One fascinating point they make is that there is a part of the brain “dedicated to taking in
language and reading tone and meaning (called the ‘superior temporal sulcus’ for those who
are curious).” Then this is critical: “When we ourselves speak, the STS turns off.” We don’t
hear our tone like we hear other’s tones. We do not naturally hear how angry we sound, or
how condescending, or how harsh. We hear it in the other person though, hear it very
clearly. C. S. Lewis noticed this tendency and included it in his “Screwtape Letters (Letter 3.).” Screwtape, a senior devil, is giving advice to his nephew Wormwood about how to lead a soul to hell. He shared a trick for encouraging his “patient” to quarrel with his mother:
“Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and
judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances
with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the
suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him.”
It is my observation that communicating well is harder than we think. That means first that
we tend (strongly tend) to overestimate how well we are communicating based on how hard
we are trying. It also means that we underestimate how hard the other person is trying to
communicate based on the results of their efforts. It has been a common observation that we
tend to judge ourselves by our best intentions, and other people by the consequences of their
actions.
I would emphasize once again that I do not speak as someone who has all this mastered, but
as one who has made significant progress from where I used to be. It has made a huge
difference in my life, and I believe I am better able to serve God because of it. I plan to
continue to work on this until I die. I believe that striving to interact with others more
peacefully and more productively will help the world get better, and it is desperately needed. I
believe it will also please Jesus.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

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