Dogs know a surprising amount about conflict resolution. One of my dogs is a zen master at conflict resolution. He has no attachment to past and blame. He approaches everyone - canine and human with an open heart and mind.
My other dog is good at conflict resolution most of the time, but she does hold on to one or two seemingly never-ending, epic feuds. The sight of the arch-nemesis is enough for the red mist to descend. After a good trash barking, she quite happily moves on wagging her tail, vindicated in her belief that the other dog is 'no good'.
Together both dogs have valuable lessons for humans in conflict:
Focus on the here and now: yesterday may have been a disappointment. Perhaps in the past there were mistakes made by other people, and there is hurt and blame. Dogs know that if you want to move forward you need to focus on the present. By focusing on the past and blame, you will stay there and not be able to move on. Dogs are expert at letting things go and moving to a new and possible future. Yes terrible things may have happened in the past, if you remain in the past there is no hope of changing the future. Creating structures to move ahead is a difficult choice, but the alternative is to remain in the past.
Never-ending battles take their toll on you: we may comfort ourselves if we continue to fight that we are 'right' and that we are defending a 'principle'. However, as my dog has found out, she is always on leash downstairs because I need to know that if the arch nemesis appears my dog will be under control. By contrast her brother, who was bitten by the arch nemesis has moved on and is free to amble as we walk and greet the neighbours. Sometimes, as humans we feel that it is 'right' to keep fighting, we need to understand that continuing a battle comes at a price. We may pay in our emotional well-being, psychological well-being, legal costs, and opportunity costs. There may be others who suffer as collateral damage from our campaign.
Forgiveness is a gift, we give ourselves: a long time ago, one of my dogs bit the other by accident. Whilst the blood was gushing from his ear, his sister demonstrated instant remorse. He forgave her immediately. As humans we mistakenly believe that forgiveness is a gift we give other people. In fact, there is significant research to show that forgiveness has health benefits for the person giving it. Dr Fred Luskin from the Stanford Forgiveness Project encourages people to forgive those who wrong them. This is not because the person being forgiven deserves forgiveness, they may never know they have been forgiven. Forgiveness frees us from the hurt and allows us to move on and heal. We stop trying to enforce the unenforceable rule and allow ourselves to focus on our own healing.
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