Tonight, I listened to a talk at IMC by Daniel Bowling, titled “What Gets Us in Conflict“. (<— that is a lot of links in one sentence)
This talk stilled some strong emotions for two reasons.
- Daniel is in round 6 of 12 sessions of chemotherapy. I’m happy that he is still giving generously of his time to teach others.
- He related a story of a young man attending a retreat where Daniel was also teaching at that time. The young man was suffering in a powerful way, and was behaving in an extremely bizarre behavior. Those around him were frightened for their safety, and the health of the young man. Rather than reacting from fear or an attempt to control the situation, Daniel sat patiently, and discovered a way to extend his heart to the young man. It was extremely unorthodox, and took courage. My interpretation is that this extension of love, not judgment, caused barriers between the two men to dissolve away. As a result, the young man shared the severe scenario which had overwhelmed him, and both men were emotionally enriched by the rather raw exchange. The culmination of the story, the young man willingly reached out to Daniel for help.
My most meaningful take-away from Daniel’s talk was not the story. It was the theme of which I’ve been aware frequently arises in the lectures by the IMC speakers. The theme of “something happens to us, we perceive it, and if we are wise and centered, a conscious choice can be made. This conscious decision can be made with the benefit of our experiences, creativity, and knowledge – not from reaction or habits.”
This is exactly the point from the work of Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning“, and founder of a counseling philosophy called “logotherapy“. I don’t like the name of either the book, or the philosophy, but I love the thought. It was introduced to me after reading one of my favorite books (with another title that is far more clinical than the warmth of the content), “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, by Stephen Covey.
Frankl discusses the concept, and reality of the following statement:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I understand this to mean that a stimulus (growling dog) prompts a response (fight – attack the dog, flight - run away).
However, if I am wise, perhaps I consider other options (kindness – I have a granola bar in my pocket, non-violence – I’ll throw a stick, awareness – perhaps I have threatened the dog/it may be growling at something behind me).
Replace “growling dog” with “confrontational neighbor”, or “aggressive customer”, and a similar broad suite of options apply.
In conclusion, I’m happy to see that two philosophies that I consider wise are overlapping. Frankl presents a colorful and practical case for the importance and benefit of this separation between what happens to us, and our decision to choose an action. Mindfulness outlines a method for gaining enough patience and wisdom to widen that separation through meditation and awareness.
If you have any similar thoughts, reactions, or considerations – please leave a comment.