Distinctions

One of the things we will be training in is the ability to make distinctions. At the core, wisdom is the ability to know that this is different from that. If I am going to weed the garden, I have to know what the weed seedlings look like and what the seedlings look like that are the plants I want to keep.

Five Crucial Distinctions

There are five distinctions that are critical to being able to resolve conflicts in our relationships, and thus to be able to build healthy relationships. Briefly these distinctions are:

· Feelings from Behavior:

Distinguish What is going in my interior domain from how I act in the exterior domain: Just because I may be experiencing a particular feeling or set of feelings doesn't mean that I will behave in any given way. Feelings are not the same as behavior.

· Event from Effect:

Distinguish What actually happened from the story that I tell about what happened: How I make meaning about the events in my life is very important. But the meaning I make and the story that I tell about the event is not the same as the event itself. Indeed, others who experienced the same event may find it to mean something very different from what it means to me.

· Effect from Cause:

Distinguish What effect the event had on me from what I think caused the effect: Can I be aware of what is going on within me and know that it is different from what I believe is going on around me?

· Need from Want:

Distinguish What qualities and conditions are best for the relationship from what I want for myself: What I want is for others to be the way I want them to be. What I need is to have certain qualities in my relationships with others.

· What I Can Do from What I Cannot Do:

When we focus on what we cannot do anything about, we feel powerless and hopeless. When we focus on what we can do, we discover how immensely powerful we really are.

Other Distinctions

Our ability to distinguish this from that is one measure of intelligence. Standardized IQ tests measure one's ability to know how one thing is different from another and even how the difference between A and B may be like or unlike the difference between B and C. Scoring well on such tests may not be a good indicator of one's ability to get on in life, but being able to distinguish between things is a necessary skill if one is weeding a garden or preparing a meal.

Making Distinctions

There are some distinctions that almost everyone can learn--as the difference between a red light and a green one--but there are some distinctions that can be very difficult to master. There are five of them that are critical to being able to creatively resolve conflicts with others. They are particularly difficult when the conflicts are with people that we are close to.

At the outset I want to make it clear that the distinctions are not between what is good and what is bad or between what is right and what is wrong. There is no sense in which one is better than the other. They are only different in ways that may not be easily apparent.

For example, it is important to make a distinction between a conflict and a fight. This is hard because we sometimes use those words as synonyms...as when we talk about an international conflict when what we are referring to is a war. Certainly a war is a kind of fight. For our purposes, though, we want to be able to notice that there is a condition in a relationship that we call a conflict even before we begin to do something about it. A fight is one of the strategies that people use to address conflicts, but the conflict exists before the fight starts and we can choose to not fight even if there is a conflict. A conflict is a condition in a relationship in which one or both parties don't like the way the other is being. A fight is a way of addressing a conflict in which the goal is to try to make the other lose.

So while we sometimes use the word conflict to mean fight there is a useful distinction that we can make between them. Most people, once the distinction has been made for them, are able to reliably continue to see and make the distinction. But there are some distinctions that are much harder to consistently make. One example is that voiced by the Serenity Prayer that many are familiar with. There are variations, but the one I am familiar with goes:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, and The wisdom to know the difference.

Personally, I think it should be referred to as the Wisdom Prayer as the crucial capacity is the ability to know what I can do from what I cannot do. The point I want to make here is that this is a distinction that is very hard to make. It seems simple, but it certainly isn't easy. And, as the popularity of the prayer can attest, it is very important to know the difference.

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3 Comments

Opening paragraph; minor style suggestion - "If I am going to weed my garden, I have to be able to tell the seedling of a weed from the seedlings of the vegetables i planted."

5 crucial distinctions - Maybe start each of the with the the word "Distinguishing". i understand that it is implied by the preceding intro paragraph but it may make it clearer / easier for the reader.

Feelings from behavior - i would use a different word than "domain". inexact and only used in 2 popular phrases; "eminent domain"(negative connotation) and "master of my domain" (distracting Sienfeld reference).

Need from Want - (Distinguish) qualities and conditions (that) are best...

Maybe add " Indeed, our ability to distinguish this from that is a measure of intelligence that we often see on standardized IQ tests." to the opening paragraph at the top of the page, it fits in there well. Then maybe delete the later paragraph where it came from which kinds of dangles out in space in its current position as well as meandering a bit long.

All are style and clarity suggestions - the concepts and examples used are fantastic - just trying to make sure the key points don't get obscured :)

Thanks Greg. These are some helpful comments. I would appreciate suggestions about an alternative to domain. It is a term of art from the larger context of the book which invites awareness of different realms of awareness when we are just looking at what is happening around us and when we go inside to our "interior domains."

on the domain issue, its not a biggie and if its an important key phrase thats defined and used often in the book then thats all good.

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