Evolutionary Reconciliation: Part 4

"Two groups of people approaching each other over a chasm, ready to shake hands."

“To put your ego in check, to subordinate your ego, you must have incredible confidence. If you find you cannot put your ego in check because you are afraid it might make you look weak, then guess what? You are weak.” Jocko Willink “Leadership Strategy and Tactics”

Conflict sucks but facing conflict is a part of building reconciliation skills. How can I subordinate my primal instinct to flee, fight or freeze during a conflict? I had an eye-opening experience with conflict recently that tested my ability to put my ego at the bottom of my priority list. The skill could be called “ego-death.”
The person I was with suddenly began to criticize me after what I thought was a benign sounding request. Their tone of voice screamed: “I am superior to and better than you in every way,” conceit and condescension hitting me like a blast of sizzling bacon fat. Here was someone who is politically correct, charming, and intelligent. I froze for a minute, then I wanted to scream  “FUCK YOU” and then realized that I did not want to fight back. I began to wonder if they were in pain, tired, hungry, lonely and/or oblivious to their use of cruel words. I also realized that I pride myself on being able to get along with people and that the other person should see how sincere and innocent I am. I had had many similar conflicts with this person and each time I concluded that they were a pompous blowhard, lacking self-awareness and not to be trusted. I took some deep breaths, while they babbled on about my faults. I did not interrupt them, which was a challenge. Thier words hung in the air like toxic smoke. Then, tentatively I verbalized some simple empathy, for both of us, but for them first. I did not try to defend myself, because I knew that self-defense would only escalate the conflict. Calm came over them and they apologized. I think what defused the tension is that I disarmed their ego by disarming mine.
You may fear that if you operate out of compassion (and not focusing on your desire to be liked, to win the argument, to deflect and defend), the other person will walk all over you. But in most cases, when the other person’s ego, i.e. their unconscious instinct to fight, flee or freeze, is not triggered by your own defense mechanisms, safety and regulation naturally comes into play. The ultimate form of leadership and compassion is creating neutral space in which the villain and victim realize they want a cease-fire.
This kind of interpersonal de-escalation tactic called “ego-death” takes endless practise. One way to encounter and navigate this skill is in the personal space of inquiry and meditation. If you are being honest and fully present, the unconscious mind will eventually vomit forth all your ego’s unresolved conflicts. There is really no permanent way of escaping unpleasant feelings so why not bite the bullet and explore your other options. In meditation, we ignore the distractions and stop blaming other people or any external circumstances for our suffering.  When we feel resourced and safe enough to allow unconscious material to arise; “Meditation is a kind of waiting and postponing of reaction.” Sarah Schulman, from her book Conflict Is Not Abuse. If you feel overwhelmed with anxiety, which I did for the first 5 years of meditating, you need to seek some outside help to heal unresolved issues.

I double dog dare you to sit still, close your eyes, no mantras or special effects required, for 13 minutes every day and see what happens. Conflict will present itself as the grist for your evolution towards inner and interpersonal reconciliation.