"I wouldn't **** on him if he was on fire!"
I have been told this on several occasions by angry, frustrated parties to conflict. It is the kind of position we can easily take when emotions are running high, when we feel we have been betrayed or made a fool of. It is quite a violent phrase, isn’t it? It conveys a belief that the object of the anger is unworthy of human consideration, is less than a human being.
And that, of course, is why conflict can become so deep, so quickly. Once we have been spurned or insulted or aggrieved (whether that was the other party’s intent or not) we protect ourselves from further damage by putting up a barrier between us and them. A line that makes it clear that they are “other”. And, of course, we stop any attempt at communication because to do so is fraught with risk. Whatever it was that they “did” to us they might do it again. We behave like this in conflict with our colleagues, our neighbours and even our closest loved ones. It runs deep in us all.
Once the line has been drawn and communication has ceased it takes an effort of will and some bravery to move beyond our barricades and try to resolve the issue. Effort and bravery or some powerful shift in how we look at the situation.
I have mediated some very entrenched, long term, vitriolic situations. Sometimes with success and sometimes without. When it is proving hard to find any common ground between parties I sometimes ask, “What would you do if their house was on fire?” or “What would you do if she collapsed in the street in front of you?”
These questions jolt us out of our barricades. They compel us to consider our “enemy” as vulnerable, as needing help, as a human being.
That’s a powerful thing – seeing others as vulnerable human beings.
On the large scale, it drove the outpouring of community love and practical help that followed the horror of Grenfell Tower.
It’s just as powerful on the small scale. In the middle of a great sulky strop, I have only to think of my husband hurt and wounded by my words to fall over myself in haste to make amends.
I have mediated some very entrenched, long term, vitriolic situations. I have never found any party who wasn’t ready to step in and support his or her neighbour in a life-threatening emergency.
So however angry we are, however deep our dislike and fear of hurt, it seems it is entirely possible for us, as individuals, to put that anger to one side if we once look at the “other” as a human being.
That may be worth considering the next time you feel like saying “I wouldn’t **** on him if he was on fire!”