President Obama gave an eloquent and inspiring speech last Wednesday January 12th at the Tucson Memorial for those killed in the massacre. Particularly impressive to to me were statements he made that captured the essence of conflict resolution principles and compassionate communication.
He mentioned the importance of how we speak to each other when conversations are difficult and how pausing before responding can help.
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds. (bold type mine).
He talked about the importance of listening more carefully, of expanding our empathy and letting go of blame, of understanding we are all connected, no matter how different we seem.
But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.
He said that even though we can’t heal the whole world by ourselves, how we treat each other is our responsibility.
We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.
Developing empathy, practicing good listening skills, letting go of blame, and taking responsibility for our words and actions, are essential aspects of good communication and conflict resolution. I do my best to practice and model these skills in every aspect of my life, and support my mediation and coaching clients to do the same.
What happened in Tucson was a horrific tragedy. But I find hope in President Obama’s compassionate, clear words, heard by millions of people. If his speech touches their hearts, if it stirs them to improve, even a little, how they communicate with others, and how they view disagreements and differences, some good will have come from the grief and loss.