Life involves relating to the other.
While relating to the partner, colleague, parents or children differences invariably emerge in opinions, personalities, likes and dislikes. For example, I love going to temples. You love hanging out at the beach. On the weekend, I like to stay at home and you want to be out of the house. I would like to save 40% of my income. You would say life is for enjoying and so 20% savings is good enough.
Differences rarely stay in one corner of the head or a discussion. Some of these differences escalate into major disagreements. Egos are bruised, colorful words are exchanged, blame is hurled, and people are hurt and angry.
How does one even bring in Karma Yoga when the breathing is heavy, the anger is raging, the hands are itching to bang something or tears well up in the eyes?
Yes! We want to offer kushala karma, competent karma aligned with Dharma unto Bhagavan and want to accept the results of our karma as prasaada.
How does one do that?
First of all, it is important to understand your communication style in a conflict which is a result of your background and influences in your life.
In handling conflicts some people are largely
Assertive and expressive – These people are comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings while being respectful of others. In conflicts, assertive people will be clear in expressing their position and willing to work towards finding a solution that benefits all. E.g. for this vacation, I want to go to the beach. I also want to see how you too can have your kind of a holiday.
Aggressive – Aggressive people tend to be confrontational. It is either their way or the highway. They will personally attack the other or shame the other to get their way. E.g ‘Only losers hang out at the beach. Why would you waste so much money and time to just go and collapse on a hammock? You are so lazy.’ In conflicts, aggressive people are more focused on winning the argument, asserting their superior stance than finding a mutually beneficial solution.
Passive/Avoidant – These people tend to avoid conflict at all costs and want to always maintain peace and harmony. They hesitate to express their own opinions or needs. E.g. When the person says, I don’t see you enjoying the beach. What is wrong? The passive/avoidant one responds – I never wanted to have this kind of a holiday. The other says’ Why did n’t you tell me earlier? Oh I thought you would get upset.’ On the face of it, it seems a caring gesture but it is not. Passive/avoidant people sulk when others don’t pay attention to them. In conflicts they just keep quiet or give in to the other’s demands to avoid further conflict and explode later like a pressure cooker.
Passive aggressive – These people tend to express themselves indirectly through sarcasm or procrastination. E.g. You want to go to the beach with this size. Nice outfit..they make clothes your size also these days..? The other asks – Have you booked the flight tickets? The passive aggressive person keeps procrastinating as he/she does not really want to go. In conflicts they may try to get their way through subtle manipulation.
Collaborative – These people tend to be open-minded and focused on finding solutions that benefit all people involved. In conflicts they listen clearly, express their own perspective and work towards finding a solution that address all of people ‘s needs. E.g. I want to go the mountains and you want to go to the beach. Can we find a place that can accommodate both of our needs? Or maybe for this holiday we go to the beach and in the next holiday we go to the mountains.
Needless to say, people’s conflict styles may vary depending on the situation and the individuals involved.
Effective conflict resolution involves understanding and respecting different conflict styles, and finding a way to communicate and work towards a resolution that is respectful and beneficial for everyone involved.
You uphold Dharma.
Most situations at home and work require us to collaborate and so we practise inviting opinions and expressing our views. We uphold the dharma of equality and equal opportunity.
In a serious conflict approach, there may not be time for collaboration, one takes the lead and adopts an assertive approach and the rest follow. The doctor in the operation theatre taking a decision or the lieutant in the army taking a decision for the jawans to follow. There is already a high level of trust among the people and so the others trust that the leader will take the right decision in the face of a conflict. There is no time for an elaborate discussion of how to collaborate and it is not necessary either.
If your style is aggressive/ passive-aggressive, then your kaushalam lies in reminding yourself that each person is worthy of respect and dignity.
Each person is a manifestation of Bhagavan. Just like you do not want to be insulted and humiliated, the other too does not want to be insulted and humiliated. And, so you exert mastery over your words. Think is a good acronym – Whatever you want to say is it
This mirrors what was said in the Gita – is it true , satyam, is it priyam-pleasant, hitam – necessary – anudvegakaram – not causing agitation and so on ..while speaking about the discipline of speech, vak tapas.
You try to move into a collaborative style of resolving conflict. By simply asking – what is a mutually beneficial way forward, ask everyone to express their opinion and discuss jointly the pros and cons of the different opinions expressed.
You can even say, I am really angry. I feel that my view is not being considered. I would really like to go to the beach. What would you like?
Kaushalam might require of you to keep your ragas and dveshas aside and listen to the other’s opinions as well.
If your style is passive/avoidant then your kaushalam lies in expressing yourself without hesitation or the fear of judgment or rejection. You can even say – I am concerned that this may escalate into a fight and feel hesitant in expressing my opinion. Still I think or feel….
Don’t dismiss your own opinions and then sulk. Learn to express your thoughts and feelings and don’t hide behind wanting peace and harmony.
We may have developed passive-aggressive or passive-avoidant ways of approaching conflicts for different reasons. That is not the point.
We stop this from becoming our default pattern. And so we apply karma yoga in the following way in resolving conflcits
Practice seeing the situation clearly with viveka – Clearly identify your approach and understand other people’s approaches of resolving conflicts. Be objective about one’s own biases which can cloud judgment without making excuses or justifying it.
Try to collaborate and invite others to express and collaborate.
To determine the way forward drop the raga, binding like for only ‘my way’ and drop the dvesha, dislike for the other person’s way. Conflict situations are good opportunities to neutralise your raga and dveshas into preferences.
As a Karma Yogi, you want to serve Dharma which is a manifestation of Bhagavan. Hence focus on serving the needs of the situation. Move away from a position of ego-gratification or only serving self interest and shift the focus to finding a beneficial way forward for everyone
Seek grace and help from Bhagavan and others to resolve the conflict. Know that all have been given iccha shakti, jnana shakti and kriya shakti in all situations which needs to be used.
Uphold dharma in resolving conflicts. Practise satyam-truthfulness, ahimsa – non injury, Kshama-accomodation, Ishvara pranidhaanam – surrender to Ishvara, daya – compassion. If we actively practise these values in non-conflict situations then we are able to invoke these in conflict situations too.
Accept that everyone has their own way of resolving conflicts and everyone wants to be validated including you
Look for common ground – Look for areas of agreement or shared values, as this can help to build trust and find common ground for a resolution.
Take a break if needed: If emotions are running high, it may be helpful to take a break and revisit the conversation later when both parties are calmer and more rational.
Be the centre in the midst of the storm of conflict.
Additionally, Chanakya who wrote Arthashastra speaks of four methods used to solve a conflict., “Saama Daana Danda Bheda”
Saama is to peacefully resolve the issue. Strangers, friends, family members all first try to peacefully sort out a problem by explanation and pacification. If this step fails, the next technique is Daana – giving something to the person as compensation to have the task completed. E.g parents may promise to buy the child a gift if the child does their homework. Saama and Daana are covered in a collaborative approach.
The third is Danda or punishment, either physical or emotional to have a task accomplished. This could be denying the child certain privileges or asking the child to stand in a corner. It temporarily resolves the conflict as the consequences of one’s actions are unpleasant. This is to be used sparingly. In society, the conflict of crime and repeated offences is addressed by punishing the person with trial and a jail sentence.
The final one is Bhedaa. This is deliberately creating division or targeting the weakness of a person to get a job done. This technique is not meant to be used but in severe conflict situations like war among nations it may be used.
A great example of where these four techniques were used at the same time is in the Mahabharata. When Krishna goes to the Kauravas to negotiate peace with the Pandavas and to avoid war, Krishna uses all four techniques to convince Duryodhan, the eldest Kaurava:
Using Saama, he asks for Duryodhana to return the entire kingdom of Indraprastha to Yudhishthira, as it was his right. Duryodhana disregarded this proposal.
When Saama failed, Krishna used Daana and asked Duryodhana to give 5 villages to the Pandavas, while keeping the rest of the kingdom. Duryodhan refused to give even 5 rooms of a house to the Pandavas.
Krishna then attempts Danda. Krishna tells Karna the truth about Karna’s birth and how Karna is the eldest of the Pandavas. Krishna asks Karna to side with the Pandavas in an attempt to convince Duryodhana. But when Karna refuses because he feels obliged to Duryodhana for being kind to him, the final option only remains.
4. The final technique of Bheda was the only option. War. The Pandavas declared war on their cousins, the Kauravas and then the battle was fought at Kurukshetra. In a strange way, it was the conflict of conflicts to resolve the long term simmering conflict and restore justice.