Monday, July 27, 2020

Conflict Resolution: A Lesson From "The Descendants"

As I've suggested before, a key to resolving conflict is to give up our attachment to being right. The harder we dig in our heels, the firmer the person we're in conflict with digs in his and the conflict goes on and on and on.

If you're looking for an example of what giving up the attachment to being right looks like and the value for doing so, there's a clip near the end of the George Clooney film "The Descendants" that provides a terrific example.

In the film, Clooney's wife has suffered a horrific accident while water skiing and is in a coma from which she will not recover. Clooney has two daughters, one of whom reveals to Clooney that, just before the accident, she had discovered her mother having an affair. Clooney is stunned to hear this news.

Clooney also has to deal with his wife's father who claims that the accident would never have happened had Clooney, a rich man, bought his wife her own boat.

The accusation is, of course, absurd as Clooney points out. What difference would it have made if his wife had been water skiing behind her own boat or, as was actually the case, behind someone else's?

But just a few moments later, we see Clooney give up his attachment to being right and it's a beautiful scene.

After lambasting Clooney for not buying his wife her own boat, the father in law says about his comatose daughter, "She was a faithful, devoted wife. She deserved more."

We in the audience know this isn't true. We know about the affair Clooney's wife was having and we have met the man with whom she was having the affair.

Clooney pauses. What should he say? We can almost see his mind racing, trying to decide how to respond. Should he contradict his father in law? Should he reveal details about the affair of which his father in law knows nothing? Or should he allow the impression to remain so that his father in law will continue to think well of his daughter?

It is at this moment that Clooney gives up his attachment to being right and responds, "You're right. She deserved more."

What is accomplished? It doesn't change the father in law's opinion of George but it does end the conflict. After all, when we say, "You're right" to the person we're arguing with, that ends the argument. The other person can only keep the conflict going by saying, "No I'm not right. Let's continue fighting."

Giving up our attachment to being right costs us something. For George Clooney, it costs the emotional satisfaction of proving his father in law wrong. In our lives, this is generally why we hang on to the attachment to being right. The possibility of proving someone else wrong is too juicy a payoff to let go of.

But that payoff of proving someone else wrong costs us peace. It costs us affinity with others. It keeps us mired in the conflict because the person we've just proved wrong is going to want to argue even harder (one can imagine the father in law, on hearing of his daughter's infidelity, continuing the conflict with the accusation, "You drove her to it.").

When we let go of our attachment to being right, we get peace. We get to let go of needless arguing. We can move on with our lives.

If we hang on to being right, we may get the temporary satisfaction of proving someone wrong. But it eliminates the longer-term satisfaction of peace and harmony and contentment.

Source by Larry Barkan

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