I’ve had war in my heart. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s what it was.
You’ve likely had war in your heart too if you have viewed others as:
- Inferior or wrong
- Irrelevant or incapable
- Mistreating or ungrateful
- Judgmental or threatening
- Your audience
- Advantaged or privileged
If you have one of the above feelings for another, likely you are treating them as an object. In other words, you may be treating them as an obstacle, a vehicle, or just plain irrelevant, rather than a human with feelings, needs, hopes and cares. According to the Arbinger Institute’s Anatomy of Peace, you are now “in the box” with this person.
To view another as an object is to war with them in your heart. You are also warring with yourself because on some level you know that it is wrong to betray your sense of right and wrong. The internal war causes you to justify or defend your feelings or actions and/or blame or demonize the person you have just objectified.
In addition, to have war in your heart is to invite others to war with you. If you are in the box, it is difficult for the other to do anything other than be in the box with you and objectify you in return. Conflict results. The conflict is further intensified between the sparring partners as they feed off each other. Others may even be recruited to reinforce and escalate the conflict in desperate attempt to self-justify. Pretty soon the whole family/office/community/nation is involved in your spat. In A Random Act of Peace (Part 1), I wrote about how one act of love or forgiveness can make a profound change. Here, one act of dehumanization can escalate conflict into some version of war.
Though the choice to get into the box may not be conscious or premeditated, it is still a choice. Therefore, we also have the choice to get out of the box and cultivate peace in our hearts instead. To do so, we must recognize and accept our own tendencies to get in the box in certain ways, either through the Better Than box (others as inferior, wrong, incapable, irrelevant), the I-Deserve box (others as mistaken, mistreated, ungrateful), the Must-Be-Seen-As box (others as judgmental, threatening, an audience), or the Worse-Than box (others as advantaged, privileged). Then, it is our responsibility to get out of the box by mentally or physically returning to safe and supportive circumstances where we easily and naturally feel out of the box (like your “happy place”).
To stay out of the box, we should reconsider the situation and then do the right thing. Only out of the box do are we able to recognize and act on what we sense is the right thing to do. For me, I may feel someone else is wrong or ungrateful, then spending time with supportive friends or in my bathtub returns me to a more peaceful, more forgiving place where I can see my own fingerprints on the tension and conflict I perpetuate.
Instead of dealing with problems after we haplessly create them, we should be proactive in making sure things go right from the beginning. We begin by keeping the peace, starting in our hearts and extending into our homes, workplace and communities. Essential to the peacemaking and peace-maintaining process is building strong relationships, listening and allowing oneself to be influenced by others, and helping others to also foster peace.
I know through personal experience that giving up my story involving judgment and criticism of both others and myself can provide a profound shift to peace of mind and peace in the heart. I also believe that once you find peace in your heart, it is imperative to then try to foster peace in others. It’s as simple as being willing to reexamine your own M.O. and be open to others’ perspectives. Foster your peace within your heart and change your corner of the world.