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Bill Riedler
Posted on Tuesday, April 15, 2003 - 1:20 pm:   

An Alternative To War
Should we invade Iraq? Some say yes and others say no. Interestingly enough, those of both opinions desire a similar outcome: to make the world a friendlier place. Perhaps if we focus on that similar outcome it will allow us to actualize our national motto of “United We Stand.” One of the objectives of those who think we should invade is to rid the world of the individuals who act in hateful, harmful ways. I agree that the world would be better off without people acting in that way. However, before selecting that method, let’s make sure that the use of the force of our military weapons will in fact accomplish that objective. If we use violence to solve this problem we may in fact make the situation worse. Now you may say that we are justified in using violent force because they are wrong. However, do they believe that they are wrong? I don’t think so. It is human nature that no matter what the argument, all of us always believe that WE are right. So instead of using violent force as a solution, let’s see if we can come up with a better solution that we can all agree upon. Let’s first explore how a person becomes violent and hateful and develops the desire to be harmful to others. Perhaps that will lead us to a better solution. Understanding the Cause It is a well-known Adlerian psychological fact that the desire for revenge is created in people when you do things that makes them more aware of how powerless they are. I have witnessed this phenomenon hundreds of times in the courses we teach, where by using a simple demonstration we show that hateful revengeful behavior can be created in less than three minutes simply by making the other person more aware of how powerless he is. Therefore, while using military force may be effective in disarming the current hateful individuals, going to war comes with the cost of creating thousands of new revengeful people by making them feel powerless. And, as we have seen on 9/11, it only takes a few terrorists to create large amounts of damage. If, by going to war we create more terrorists than our military force removes, have we not simply postponed and amplified the problem? Force never wins a person to your way of thinking. Every mechanic knows the wisdom of, “Don’t force it.” We Must Not Ignore the Problem If we don’t use military force does that mean we should ignore the problem. No! Here is where I recommend another solution. We must be kind AND firm, both at the same time. Is that not how Gandhi was so effective in India? Here is how to apply that method to the challenge in Iraq in order to minimize the current threat without creating more hateful individuals who may wish to retaliate with terrorism in the future. As example, Israel has repeatedly used military force, but terrorism there has not diminished, it has become a common occurrence. I don’t believe that is what we desire in the United States. Therefore, when choosing how to respond to Iraq’s hostile actions, we must make sure that we do not respond in a way that allows them to psychologically ignore the fact that they are being hostile. Perhaps an example will help make this clear. They Don’t Learn If You Are Violent Several years ago I was in the Seattle airport and observed two police officers escorting a handcuffed man out of the airport. His hands were cuffed behind his back, and the officers were on each side of him holding his arms at the elbow. As they were walking, the prisoner complained several times that his wrists were hurting. Every time he complained the officers jerked on his arms and inflicted even more pain. Now I doubt that these police officers were mean people, and I am certain that their motive was to teach the man that it was not in his best interest to commit crime. However, the officers did not realize that they were using a method that was not psychologically sound. They believed that the prisoner had to suffer in order to learn better behavior. What they did not realize was that every time they made him suffer they prevented him from learning that it was HIS behavior of crime that was causing him to lose his freedom. Each time the man was jerked around by the officers he could easily arrange to blame his current troubles on police brutality. When you attempt to teach with violence, the person does not learn. The reason it is so important to have the prisoner associate his loss of freedom with his OWN behavior is because when he does so, his CHOICE to behave more cooperatively comes from his own inner motivation. When we use force to control his behavior, he only feels more justified in being hostile! Then we are left with the task of being totally responsible for controlling him and for preventing those loyal to him from engaging in future retaliation. Do you see that no amount of defensive weapons can ever stop terrorism? With terrorism it only takes one. It is much easier to destroy than to prevent someone from destroying. We must attack this problem at its source. We can revise what we are doing to create terrorists by discovering where we are making others feel powerless. We need to apply the psychological tools that can help us remove these threats. Let’s look at how Gandhi used these tools. He did not require billions of dollars of weapons to get the British to stop occupying his country. Yet he was extremely firm. He was not a pacifist. He insisted on no violence because he realized that he must be kind and firm at the same time. That gave him tremendous power. Those who were reverting to violence to force their way were left with the painful awareness that THEY were being mean. That led the British to discover on their own that it was to their benefit to change their behavior. There was no way that the British could feel justified in thinking that the opposition deserved to be punished, but they became very aware that India would not tolerate their intrusion. We Must Not Make Our Allies Feel Powerless What would it take to apply these principles to the challenges in Iraq? First, we would have to be determined to NOT use violence. Second, we would need to impose stiffer inspections and FIRM insistence on compliance. By FIRM I mean that we only use the minimum amount of force necessary to achieve compliance, but not the slightest bit more. This needs the unified agreement of the world community, so that jointly, with all of our allies, we are firm without violence about disarmament. We must avoid making our allies feel that we will act without their agreement. That will only make them feel powerless. At first it may appear that this method will take more time than a military attack. That is only because we have not yet applied our great resources toward developing tools of PEACFUL conflict resolution. In the United States Government we only have a War Department. We do not yet have a DEPARTMENT OF PEACE because we have historically mistakenly believed that FORCE could resolve conflicts. It is awesome to see what we have all accomplished by applying our American ingenuity to the task of inventing tools to force compliance. Can you imagine what we could accomplish if we applied the same funds and intelligence toward developing an ATTITUDE DISARMAMENT PROGRAM! Although we are already the most powerful nation on earth, all of that military power was not able to prevent the events of 9/11. And a policy of using force will create even more people who hate America. Attempting to solve the terrorism problem at the level of violent action will only result in the need to surrender more and more of our personal freedoms. We need to stop terrorism at its roots. We must stop people’s desire for revenge by applying more programs using the latest psychological tools. The Improvement Starts With Each of Us Stopping violent acts of terrorism requires that each and every one of us take steps to improve our own character. We need to decrease our need to have someone to blame for our difficulties. If we use violence to solve this problem, are we not also ourselves acting in hateful, harmful ways? We all need to develop self-acceptance so that we are willing to see what mistakes we have made to inadvertently cause others to hate us. And most importantly, we all need to make sure that we allow those opposing and blaming the United States to feel heard. A New Form Of Conflict Resolution Here is how we can begin. Allow me to describe a tool that we teach our students for how to dissipate a conflict. We call it the Empathy Exercise. Before I describe how to apply this strategy, let me tell you how powerfully it works in real life situations. Here are two examples: One day I received a nine-page fax of complaints from one of our customers. He was extremely angry. His letter was filled with curse words, threats about taking out a pound of flesh, detailed explanations of how much he was going to sue us for, and a long list of all of the organizations he was going to report us to. I phoned him and asked to set up an appointment to talk with him. He said that he was going to be in our city in a few days to meet with one of the attorneys he had hired to sue us. He agreed to meet with me after seeing the attorney. When he arrived for the appointment, his face was red and it was clear that he was still angry and blaming. I escorted him to my office and said that I wanted to hear all of his complaints. In a very angry voice he told me the first of his long list of complaints. Then I used the technique I will soon describe to you. His response was, “Oh, don’t worry about it. I can see that it is all just my stuff. But I understand you are teaching a class this weekend. Would it be okay if I sat in on the class?” That was it. End of complaint. No lawsuit. No violence. He didn’t even mention any of his other complaints. If our country used tools like that to solve the Iraq conflict, wouldn’t you be more proud than if we bombed them into reluctant submission? Before I disclose the tool I want to give one more example. In one of our courses we ask the students to make a list of ten complaints they have about someone in their life. Then we help them see that their complaints about the other person are NOT the cause of any of THEIR difficulties, and assist them so that they no longer need to pressure that other person to change. In the process they lessen their need to manipulate other people, and this results in more intimacy in their relationship. One time one of the students left his workbook in his wife’s car. The next morning his wife phoned him from her place of employment shouting that she was going to divorce him. “How dare you tell all those people at your workshop all those complaints about me?!!” (She had found the workbook.) He told her he was going to come to her office at lunchtime to talk. When he arrived she suggested they go out into his car because she did not want the people in her office to hear them fighting. Once seated in the car, he listened to her first complaint and applied the technique. She began crying and the conflict melted. That evening she told him that she had never felt closer. Hopefully by now you are curious. Here is the technique and how to use it to peacefully resolve conflicts.: The Power Of Empathy Ask the other person to describe their complaint about you. While the other person explains their complaint, listen intently, and then say, “When I do that (give a brief but accurate description of their complaint using their words, followed by an example of when you did what they are complaining about.) I must make you feel…” (Feel the feelings while you are saying this. Deeply empathize.) Do not explain why you did what they accused you of doing. Do not justify doing it. Do not say you are sorry. Do not apologize. Do not promise to never do it again. Just empathize as much as possible. Make sure the complaining person feels heard, understood, and feels like his complaint is a valid complaint. Now I am aware that this sounds overly simplistic. But it really works! It will take a lot of practice to develop the ability to sincerely empathize. And it will be difficult to avoid defending and to stifle the urge to blame the other party. But if we make the investment in practicing and learning this method, it will melt the majority of conflicts. Why It Is Effective Here is why it is so effective. First of all, the complainer desperately needs someone to blame. When you give him what he wants, there is no longer a need on his part to explain that you are the cause of his problem. Additionally, by empathizing, you model what it is like to have self-acceptance. This makes it easier for the complainer to comfortably recognize his own shortcomings. And, once the person with the complaint recognizes his own shortcomings, he is much more likely to change his own behavior . . . without force of any kind! These are just a few of the new psychological tools that already exist, and they CAN be applied on an international basis. So, the CHOICE is up to us. Use force, or use kind but firm alternatives. I suggest we refuse to use military force and instead apply these new methods. We are already teaching these tools to individuals at twenty-five Centers in the United States and at twenty-eight Centers in Russia. We have already started disarming attitudes in both countries. 53,000 people in Russia have taken these programs and lessened their need to blame the USA for their difficulties. Can you imagine the powerful effect it would have if we applied our great National resources toward developing and enhancing non-violent conflict resolution methods? Perhaps it is time to establish a Department of Peace. Let’s make it happen. Bill Riedler, President, Global Relationship Centers, Inc. Web site E-mail

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