“Our fate is shaped from within ourselves outward, never from without inward.” —Jacques Lusseyran
I learned one of the most beautiful lessons of life while on a flight to Hawaii reading The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute.
Part of living life involves interacting with other people. People in communities often, perhaps inevitably, produce conflict. The knee-jerk solution in most cases is to tell others they need to change. But what the book suggested was I needed to change. While reading, I reflected that the heart of personal conflict was this—I was allowing others to put me into a box where, once confined, I had few options for change from either them or me.
The Anatomy of Peace invited me to ask myself some questions. Was I seeing people as people—or people as objects? Was I betraying myself and my principles by the way I react to conflict? Was I honoring my desire to help my neighbor? Is my heart at war or at peace? Was I at peace with myself and others? As I read the book and pondered these questions I realized the only person I could control was me. As I contemplated, the thought came to me that self-governance, personal responsibility, and accountability were my path out of these boxes of conflict. That statement ultimately became the 10th Core Value at John Adams Academy. As a core value, self-governance, personal responsibility, and accountability suggest that the ideal outcome of an American Classical Education™ is to create such citizens and souls.
Some 30 years ago my sister moved to Maui with her family of eight children. The first week at school her small and wiry twins were first into the line to get on the bus home. They soon found themselves facing down much larger and stronger Hawaiian girls who pushed them out of line and took their place. The twins’ older brother, seeing the injustice, quickly came to their rescue and was promptly pummeled and pushed down by the stronger girls as well. On the way home the native girls taunted and threatened them to not get on the bus the next morning. Upon arriving home, they shared this all with their mother. My sister made some calls to a few neighbors and friends who told her these girls were known neighborhood bullies and should be avoided. They counseled her to call the school and the police.
My sister, who has a cheery and charitable temperament, decided instead to bake some bread and cinnamon rolls. She then visited the homes of the Hawaiian girls and offered the baked goods. This gesture immediately disarmed them. She next asked them if they had ever done gymnastics? My sister was an elite gymnast in her day. She taught them a few gymnastic moves and the native girls quickly became good friends to the family.
I learned much from this example at the time, and in the years that followed I had the challenge of trying this out on my own! In Proverbs we read, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” (KJV Bible Online, Proverbs 15:1) My sister had put those words into loving action and proved them true.
A few years ago, I had a difficult conversation with a neighbor of mine. She had called to tell me our dogs had gotten loose that day and were a nuisance to the community. She continued that on previous occasions the dogs had attacked a fawn and even charged at a 4-year-old child. She forcefully questioned, “What are you going to do about it?”
I assured her I shared her concern. We were doing all we could with two fences, tags and even tracking devices. She then repeated the same accusations. I told her the dogs would never harm a child and that our own grandchildren were never threatened by them. I told her they would, however, go after a wild animal like a deer. That is what dogs do. She continued lecturing me and finally, feeling exasperated, I said, “Are you finished?”
She quickly shot back, “You are being condescending to me Mr. Big Shot CEO!” and proceeded to call me a number of colorful names and expletives. I told her that she was now stooping to the level of personal attacks. She said I had caused her to do that and retorted, “What are you some sort of liberal snowflake?” I have never had anyone refer to me as a liberal snowflake before! She spouted next, “I’ve seen you before and know who you are. If those dogs get out again, don’t be surprised if they disappear!” I replied, “Are you threatening me or my dogs?” She then called me some more derogatory names. I again asked if she was finished and we terminated the call. Wow! Looking at my watch I saw this was 15 minutes of torturous conversation!
I thought afterward, she knows nothing about me and had judged me solely based on where we live and perceptions around her observations. Seeking a remedy, the next morning I got a bouquet of flowers and took them to her. Her husband answered the door. He didn’t know who I was and invited me right in. As she entered the foyer she looked at me and said, “I think I know you.” I said, “Yes you do, you called me last night. I am Dean Forman, your neighbor.”
She came up and hugged me and said, “I am so sorry, I have felt terrible about this ever since I hung up the phone.” I told her that I wanted to reset and start over. I explained that it did not offend me that she called animal control as the dogs were not street savvy. I reiterated they were not vicious, and we owned them for the purpose of keeping deer off our property. I added that the rains had softened the ground and they found a way out. I told her I was a caring neighbor and a Christian and that I try to be a good person. I asked her forgiveness.
She said, “Can I hug you again? The flowers are lovely.” I said, of course and I gave her my cell number and told her to call anytime there was a problem. I assured her that she really did not know us and that we are good neighbors.
My choice to meet anger with humility and an outreached hand was inspired by my sister’s example all those years ago when she chose to meet an act of bullying with a sweet treat and a sweeter greeting of love. Thanks to her I thought, why not take some flowers and at least you can know that you did all you could to mend relations? It worked like a charm! Love conquered hate, harsh words were replaced by understanding and friendship. I left feeling such a comfort and inward peace. Thus, the anatomy of peace. That is one of the most beautiful lessons of life I have ever learned.
What is the most beautiful thing you have learned? How did you know it?