CNN (L. Jones, April 3, 2015) reported that the owners of Memories Pizza, Crystal and Kevin O’Conner, have closed down their store and have gone into hiding. This was in reaction to threats to burn the store down and personal death threats directed toward the O’Conner family after publicly stating they would not cater a same sex wedding. In reaction to the threats The Dana Show, a nationally syndicated radio talk show, (April 3, 2015) set up a fund and raised $842, 387 in less than a week.
Lines in the Sand
The controversy around the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been widespread and extremely divisive. Once again there is an issue, which stirs deep personal convictions, and emotions. Many have drawn the line in the sand. Sides are chosen and both sides are adamant about defending their point of view. Statements are made and the other side reacts to those statements in a way that escalates the tension. As the banter continues back and forth both sides contribute to greater discord. Both sides become entrenched in defending their point of view in any way possible. This often escalates to the point of violence either threatened or actual.
This pattern of behavior happens at all levels of society. Parents get into fights with little league coaches and officials. Sports fans get into fights with fans from the opposing team. Racial tension continues to erupt in our cities from Ferguson MO, to New York NY. Spouses come to blows over difference.
What is Missing
This destructive pattern of behavior lacks one essential element and that is empathy. Steven Covey said, (as cited in brainyquotes. com April 6, 2015) "when you show deep empathy towards others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That's when you get more creative in solving problems."
Empathy is the glue that holds society together. Empathy is the salve that heals ruptured or torn relationships. There just isn't enough being applied on a regular basis. Empathy is the capacity to share in another's feelings, thoughts, beliefs, experiences, and point of view by imagining what it would be like to be in that person's situation.
Empathy is a natural capacity. It is as natural as breathing. We are born with the capacity for empathy. Empathy can be cultivated as a normal expression in everyday life through Mindfulness. Mindfulness is learning to become mindful of oneself and of the other. Mindlessness is the lack of awareness of oneself and the other. When stress comes the normal primitive reaction is to react in a mindless manner. Mindless reactivity comes from the place within that is fearful, self protective, and defensive. Mindless reactivity is usually experienced as an attack. Very quickly, the opposing side will either attack back or flee. So, mindless reactivity is characterized by the fight or flight reaction. That mindless reaction is devoid of empathy. Mindless reactivity creates an unsafe environment to communicate. Therefore rather than creative resolution the net result is destructive escalation. The passing of more laws to try to regulate societies behavior is not the solution. Mindless reactivity drawing the line in the sand and enacting new laws only serve to bring about the very chaos that was feared would come to pass. Mindless reactivity is the path of the self fulfilled prophecy.
Creative Resolution is Possible
Creative resolution to issues can happen when both sides let go of their need to defend their point of view. Then put in place openness to the other person's point of view from a place of nonjudgmental curiosity. It takes courage to let go of one's defenses. It takes courage to move toward empathy. It feels very vulnerable to move towards empathy. However here is one of the great paradoxes of life: Empathy has amazing creative power.
Imagine the possibilities if the owners of the pizza parlor could have begun the conversation with empathy and curiosity toward a group of people who are different, rather than drawing the line in the sand. Imagine the possibilities if those who were offended by the owners of the pizza parlor would have expressed a curios empathy about their religious beliefs rather than threatening them for their religious beliefs. What could the possibilities be for a society that could let go of pre-judgments and replace those pre-judgments with open minds, open hearts and curiosity?
When two people with very different points of view come together from a place of empathic curiosity, each willing to seek to understand the other, the field of infinite possibilities begins to open. From that place creative resolutions can be found. Stress and tensions from the differences are dissolved.
This is true on all levels of society. This is true in conflict between two partners, this is true in conflict between parent and child, this is true in conflict between two groups, this is true in conflict between two nations.
Where there is empathy there are safe conversations where there are safe conversations created solutions will appear.
Jones, L. Religious freedom battle. (2015, April 3). Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2015/04/03/nr-intv-baldwin-jones-indiana-pizza-shop-donations.cnn
Steven Covey Quotes. (2015). Recovered from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/s/stephen_covey.html
The dana show. (2015, April 3). Retrieved from http://www.gofundme.com/MemoriesPizza