If there is a universal constant to love, it’s that love is never a destructive force. Its nature is to strengthen and build up. It does this by honoring the good that exists within all living beings.
Whether at the moment we are a parent, sibling, employee, lover, or friend – if we are in conflict – by leaning into that innate goodness (using praise, or words of gratitude, or choosing to listen and understand) instead of away from it (scolding, chastising, shutting down) we allow the other person to respond from the goodness within themselves. By not provoking further tension with our words or actions, our response will enable them to choose a better way of being.
My husband and I have always had two cats. Last year, the older one passed away. It was heartbreaking for us, and it seemed a loss for our other kitty, too, as she and her housemate had bonded so well. Eventually, we adopted another furbaby. Our current kitty wasn’t so thrilled. She couldn’t stand to be close to the new kitty and hissed and swatted whenever she came into range.
For a time, I scolded her for lashing out at the new kitty (and on occasion, I do slip into old habits), but it wasn’t doing much to remedy the situation. It usually just sent both cats running. So, I decided one day I would stop using negative reinforcement, and try to find opportunities to praise my kitty when she’d not yet acted up.
As a result of this small change, the tension between our two cats is significantly reduced. My kitty is showing greater tolerance and patience around her newer housemate. And when something raises the potential for conflict, more often than not, if I just start saying, “good kitties” in a gentle tone of voice, it diffuses the situation.
If responding to conflict and negativity with love can do this for kitties, just imagine what it can do for people!
It can be challenging to cultivate a loving response to conflict when that conflict is aimed at us. Seeing another person’s hostility as a consequence of conflict within themselves is easier said than done. And, when we feel attacked, responding in kind is almost habitual. I believe it’s important that our response to hurt from another person must demonstrate as much love for ourselves as them; one of the ways we express this self-love is by establishing firm boundaries for acceptable behavior from others. How we react to conflict can help clarify those limits, while still treating the other person with kindness. When we are able to approach all forms of conflict this way, we become exceptional role models for others.
For example, if we responded to someone cutting us down with: “Could you explain to me why you said/did X? This isn’t like you. You’re better than that.”
- We communicate confusion over the person’s behavior; where is this coming from? It gives that person pause to consider the real source of their angst.
- We distinguish the person from the behavior. (They are not their behavior; bad action does not mean bad person).
- We communicate the unacceptable nature of their behavior (This establishes a boundary and maintains our self-respect).
- We suggest this behavior is not typical. We impress upon them we view them in a positive light, and that hurtful behavior is beneath them.
- We appeal to their innate goodness. By saying they are above this behavior, by painting a positive image of them instead of a negative one, we enable them to act on that goodness. We help them WANT to do so.
Think of the possibilities open to us, in all our relationships, by choosing love in these painful and awkward moments? Think of the power we have to provide healing for ourselves and the other person, by bringing out the best in both?
I’m not saying this is easy, or that it will work with every person and situation. It likely won’t. But I believe deep in my soul that responding to conflict and hostility in this way has the potential to trigger significant change. With all the intolerance, fear, and violence that is rampant today, I’m convinced that it is love that will save our beleaguered world.
So far as it is possible for me, every chance I get, I’ll choose love.