One of my coaching clients is struggling because she feels angry and resentful about a perceived injustice. Her tribunal of friends all agree: she was wronged. When in the midst of a conflict it can be challenging but helpful to ask yourself this question: Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?
When you want to be happy, or at least peaceful, you don’t have to wait for the transgressor to “get it” and make amends. You can simply choose to be happy, or at least peaceful. To illustrate this point I’d like you to consider Shaquille O’Neal.
A lot of suffering comes from the thought that reality should be different than it is. We think people shouldn’t act the way they are acting - they should act in a manner that is pleasing to us. And very often we have the tribunal agreeing with us.
So that’s the first reason to allow Shaq into your consciousness. Because you have in him a highly-trained athlete—a champion at his sport—who sometimes messes up. That’s right: Shaq is going to win some games and he is going to lose some games, no matter how much his fans want him to win all the time. No matter how much his fans think he should win all the time.
Now look at the people in your life. None of us is paid millions of dollars and ensured the cheers of the masses as a reward for making others in our lives happy. Nobody gets a championship ring for being selfless; nobody gets a college scholarship for conflict resolution. Truth be told, we probably don’t even give others in our lives a lot of positive reinforcement for making us happy.
Shaq loses the occasional game, and there’s nothing his fans can do about it. The people in our lives can make us unhappy. And once again, there’s not a lot we can do to change them. People are going to be who they are. But in any conflict, you can do something about the other person—you. You can do a lot about how you perceive the situation.
Enter Shaq, again. Because if you have been hurt or frustrated by someone’s behavior, you might want to try practicing non-attachment, otherwise known as the art of not taking things personally. If someone has hurt or frustrated me it’s because I (at least at one time) cared about how the person behaved. And I’ve learned to take the heat out of a conflict by playing with the idea that it has nothing to do with me. That it involves someone else, someone as unlike me as possible. Someone like a certain 7-foot tall champion basketball player.
Try it: when faced with conflict or criticism, receive the other person’s words or actions as if they were directed at Shaq. Because if a stranger called you and said, “Hey Shaq, you lost that game last night! You are a LOSER!” you would find the exchange odd, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t take it personally. You would say, “Um, I’m not Shaq.” and end the conversation. Declining to react negatively can really be that simple—though it does take some practice – and helps create peace.
And finally, one of the hardest things about rolling with conflict is dealing with our own failure, our own culpability. And that’s where another champion basketball player comes in. Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve failed over and over again in my life.” Somehow we don’t usually connect failure with Michael Jordan and yet he also said that failing helped him succeed. And it’s true for all of us. There is not one of us who is perfect and above reproach - we all fail over and over again. And we all have the same opportunity to learn from our failures, get back in the game and have some fun.
This week I'm rejoicing in...Facebook! I'm having so much fun over there. If you haven't already, I wish you would join me. If you were over there you'd see a really cool picture of Shaq along with this article. (I couldn't figure out how to put it up here.)
If you follow my blog, you've probably noticed that the frequency of posts has diminished. I am spending more time over at my Facebook page. I really enjoy posting daily messages that are grounded in positive psychology and they often lead to fun discussions. So if you'd like to join me, just go to Facebook and search for me, Stacey Curnow. Hope to see you there!