Saturday, November 03, 2012

Regarding Your Opponent As An Ally

Victory can only be claimed with both sides can say the same. ~Ghandi

Regard your opponent as a potential ally. ~Ghandi

Jack was sitting in a Playhut cube on top of a pile of giant plastic insects. In fact, it was a pile of all the giant plastic insects. He’d collected them while the other children were busy elsewhere and now he was “using” them.

Earlier in the day Charlie had developed an attachment to the giant grasshopper. When he spotted his prized insect in Jack’s pile he did what most young 3-year-olds would do: reached in and grabbed it.

This apparently wasn’t the first attempt by a child to separate Jack from his collection, and having learned to be vigilant, he laid a firm hand on the grasshopper as well, letting out a fierce wail.

Not to be deterred, Charlie held on, saying softly, “I want it.”

It’s a scene played out daily in preschools around the world. Sometimes it’s a child who uses all the blocks and simply can’t spare any for other builders. Sometimes it’s a play dough horder or a plastic fork aggregator or a baby doll adopter. The common characteristic is that while they may have acquired these monopolies fairly, they aren’t playing with the toys as much as simply defending them. It may have been fun cornering the market, but the joy is lost in the serious game of protecting the pile.

We’ve all found ourselves, often inexplicably, backed into a corner, defending an untenable position. As adults it usually involves knowing that we’ve lost the argument, but being unable in our emotional state to admit it, we get louder, less reasonable, and bent on changing the subject to something we can be right about. We find ourselves chosing to be miserable rather than admit to being wrong. The only way out of it is time for reflection (followed by an act of contrition) or better yet, an “opponent” who offers us a safe landing place.

I put my hand on the grasshopper and stated, “Jack had this grasshopper first.” Charlie released his grip, but not without saying again, “I want it.”

Jack tucked the grasshopper firmly under his knee. He was clearly miserable, which is the natural state of anyone protecting a hoard. Charlie was upset at not attaining his prized grasshopper, which is the natural state of the disappointed.

I described the situation as clearly as I could: “Jack has all the bugs. Charlie wants to play with the grasshopper.” I had no idea what was going to happen next. After making the statement, I just let it hang there.

We all sat in the silence. Jack’s insects were no longer under attack, which must have given him enough emotional breathing space to move out of the corner into which he’d retreated. After a moment, Jack pulled the grasshopper from under his knee and handed it to Charlie. Charlie beamed. Jack beamed back at him. Charlie then climbed into the Playhut cube with Jack and they sat there together for several minutes, still beaming, handing out giant plastic insects to whoever asked.

Ghandi is often said to have devised the “win-win” model of conflict resolution. There is no better win than one that makes your opponent your ally. Win-win feels good and when we feel good, we do good.

(This may be totally unrelated, but I suspect not.) Later in the day, Peter removed himself from the classroom and sat on the steps just outside the door. He looked sad. I went to sit beside him and Charlie followed me. I said, “Peter, you look sad.”

He answered something about a friend, but I didn’t quite make it out. Before I could ask him to repeat it, Charlie took Peter by the hand, walked him through the classroom, and up the stairs into our loft. Charlie put his hands on the side and started jumping up and down. Peter, smiling, started jumping beside him.

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1 comment:

Play said...

AHa TTom! You have just just proved, once again... the wisdom of "Silence is Golden". I think it is amazing when you give young children the opportunity to solve their own well they are able to do so, if given the time to think! So often, I too, have experienced the same reaction from children during conflict situations: " After a moment, Jack pulled the grasshopper from under his knee and handed it to Charlie. Charlie beamed." Thank you TTom, again for sharing your wonderful gift of flow, I say.