#45 How To Bring Spirit and Heart To Your Conflicts

We each have different parts to ourselves such as body, mind, emotion, spirit and heart. These are the parts of a person Ken Cloke describes in his book The Crossroads of Conflict. By spirit I think Ken means intention and life energy; and by heart, the place where love resides and which is also a window to the soul (if you accept such a possibility).

In understanding these different parts of a person, one can usefully think of them as capabilities or faculties. We need a body to house and generate the other faculties, we have to be able to reason with the mind to analyze, we must have emotional experience to have preferences and organize behaviour, we have to put life energy behind decisions to sustain intentions and direction, and we must have heart in order to experience and grow love in our relationships.

One can also understand these faculties as existing at successively deeper* levels of a human being, beginning with body and mind as the most manifest surface expressions of who we are, progressing through the emotional realm, through spirit, and finally to heart. Moving to progressively deeper levels generally requires more openness.


Image-spirit and heart


The paragraphs above make a couple of central points: we have different faculties, and we experience them at different depths of ourselves. These faculties relate to two principles for addressing conflict that I think are worthy of consideration.

Firstly, in order to resolve a dispute or make progress in a conflict, one may have to engage and communicate from the faculties that have been impacted. At the very least, I suggest that if you are not making progress, it is worth considering the engagement of faculties that are not part of the conversation.

Secondly, most likely to be absent from the conversation are the deeper faculties. The more threatening the situation or environment, the less likely we are to share our experience at the deeper levels. The sharing of deeper experience entails more vulnerability.

With your spouse you probably don’t have to talk about your deepest life concerns in sorting out what restaurant to go to tonight; but you had better talk about those deepest life concerns in working through conflict about where you are going to reside for the next ten years.

It sounds simple enough: if the conflict is more consequential or stubborn, explore more deeply. Of course it’s not that simple. It’s not simple because there is no clear signpost telling us what faculties will produce the best communication, or how deeply to seek engagement. Knowing what faculties to speak from and listen to is part of the art of dispute resolution.

You may not have thought of spirit/intention and heart as distinct from emotion and mind. I will supply four questions that may open a conversation to the levels of spirit and heart respectively.

– What is your intention with regard to this conflict, and how satisfied are you with that intention? What is the intention you had or have that you are not following through on?

– What does your heart tell you that you’ve been learning from this conflict? What is the most heartfelt thing you could say at this time?

I have found that shifting the conversation to intentions or heart level can break a logjam in communication. In the next posting, I will further explore human faculties and their relationship to dispute resolution and conflict communication.


*Although post-modernism and the Narrative Mediation school may contend that the notion of ‘depth’ applied to a human being is cultural discourse without substantial merit, I maintain that it is a useful metaphor for understanding and communicating subjective experiences.


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