As kids, my brother and I were not particularly close.
Our interests always differed, and when we played games, they usually
ended in a fight. I was the academic type; my brother was good with his hands and electronics. My mother felt that my brother chose interests that were my weaknesses
to avoid competition with his older sister.
Therefore, I was surprised to find this image of us among my father's photos after he died. A hug. Perhaps my brother was actually trying to strangle me, but I prefer to see a hug. I don't recall the circumstances. Touched, I copied the photo and framed it, along with Shel Silverstein's poem, Hug o' War, and gave it to my brother as a gift. The poem was written after we grew up, and I wonder if we might have acted differently toward each other if we had heard it as kids.
My father's death was a wake-up call, bringing my brother and me together in
ways that we never had been before. Recently, we came together once again to help
my mother move into an assisted living home on short notice. This
involved helping her through surgery to install a pacemaker, then finding an
appropriate home, packing and unpacking her belongings, purchasing some new
furniture, organizing her room, selling and giving away items for which she
had no space, all the while getting her to doctors and to meals, and being
sure she knew her way around her new home. Sadly, illness had left her moving very slowly,
not only physically but also mentally. She had trouble
making decisions and focusing on simple tasks. We were in the awkward position of making many
decisions for her in the interest of accomplishing our task in a reasonable time.
My brother and I relate in different ways with my mother, I learned,
and our approach to problem solving is different. My brother acts quickly. If
there is a task to be done, such as choosing new furniture, he wants to get
the job done as fast as possible and move on. My approach was to take time to include my mother in the decision
making process, so she could feel in control of the move and would not object
to our choices on her behalf. My brother's approach was faster, but potentially disruptive. My approach was slower, but was more likely to lead to consensus.
I realized that when we worked together we were able to find a middle
position, so that the move was more successful. Neither of us alone would have had the same success.
I slowed my brother enough that my mother was able to have some input,
and he pushed me to get the job accomplished in a timely manner. In this circumstance, the synergy between our two
There are circumstances where quick decisions are essential - during
battle, or a big game hunt, for example, or during a football game. There are circumstances where it is important to let
others take their time and have their say - for example, when you want to
encourage creativity in a child. Who are the peacemakers of the world? Recently
Public Television aired two excellent biographical programs, one on President
Jimmy Carter, the other on Benjamin Franklin. I was struck by their similar styles of peacemaking - both relying on a
time consuming process of building trust and connections. Franklin lived in a time when he had years to develop these
relationships. As President, Carter had four years, and a public that was impatient for results.
Peacemaking requires a paradigm shift. Consider the difference between the traditional game of Tug of War, and
its cooperative counterpart, the Tug of Peace. I learned the Tug of Peace in a 4-H leadership workshop on
environmental education, in which small teams worked together to overcome
physical hurdles such as getting over a high wall, or across an imaginary
river with a log too short to bridge the river's width. Inside, as we prepared for our outdoor teamwork, our leader passed out
a rope, and started us with a traditional tug of war. "This is a zero sum game", he reminded us, "in
which two teams compete, but only one wins". After a rousing exertion he asked the winners, and then the
losers, how they felt.
Then he led us in a Tug of Peace. Same rope, same group of people who
moments before had been rivals. The
leader tied the ends of the rope together. We sat in a circle holding the rope in both hands.
We were instructed to stand up at the signal, using the rope for
balance. How could we carry out this task? It took just moments,
but they were moments of intense concentration and focus on the others around
us, on the entire group. Afterward, our leader asked us again how we felt. We
agreed, the feeling is totally different from the Tug of War.
The challenge to leaders is to frame the issues so that the rope is tied at the ends, and both sides must lift it together, even when they are pulling in different directions.
Got a rope?
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A Conflict Resolved With Bananas
Copyright © December 7, 2002, Karen Strickler. All rights reserved.