A few days ago, I turned on the evening news. First up was the story about the New York “road rage” incident between a group of motorcyclists and the driver of an SUV. The next story featured a local incident in which a man who was apparently beating his wife while driving crashed into another vehicle, injuring its occupants.
But we don’t even have to turn on the TV to see examples of people who make a competitive sport out of ordinary daily driving, and a dangerous sport at that. If we expand our view beyond our streets and highways, it’s easy to conclude that people are becoming addicted to conflict, more selfish, and more insensitive to the effects of their behavior on others. People seem to go for what they want regardless of consequences, and when someone or something gets in their way, they take enforcement and retribution into their own hands.
This is what drives me to keep on teaching others that we can actually get more of our own needs met when we address the interests of those who can deliver it—address the others’ interests in ways that are also compatible with our own interests. This is what keeps me training people in the skills for building consensus.
But sometimes I feel like an ant trying to move a mountain one grain of sand at a time. Sometimes there seems to be so much contentiousness, such a hunger for conflict, that I ask myself how much I can actually accomplish. Even if every student, trainee and client I reach goes about getting what they need from others in ways that build bridges, rather than burning them, the conflict addicts seem to far outnumber us. How can we ever hope to change this culture?
Coincidentally, while I was in this frame of mind, my old DVD player went into its death throes. I had a choice between watching my Brother Cadfael mysteries in shades of sepia or all in green. Somehow those green Martians didn’t quite fit in Medieval England.
So I bought a new blue ray/DVD player and hooked it up. For my first test run, I chose to watch The Hobbit. In this movie, the wizard Gandalf is leading a group of Dwarves to reclaim their homeland, which was taken over by a dragon. To help in this quest, Gandalf enlist the most unlikely creature, a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins.
For those of you who aren’t Tolkien fans, hobbits, or Halflings, are even smaller than dwarves. Even less promising, hobbits are peace loving homebodies.
In one scene, Gandalf confers with the wise elf queen Galadriel. I had forgotten that she asks Gandalf why he chose the Halfling, Bilbo. Gandalf replies, “I don’t know. Saruman [the head wizard] believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I have found that it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay, simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”
There was my answer. If only a few of those few one teacher can reach find it a little easier to deal in kindness and love, if they learn that decency toward others doesn’t have to mean neglecting oneself, if they model bridge building in their daily lives, then maybe we will each have done our little hobbit bits to change our culture, and thus our world, for the better.
This probably won’t happen in my lifetime. It might not happen in the lifetimes of my youngest trainees and clients. But I know it makes sense for me to keep on keeping on, and I hope those of you who read these blogs will be inspired to do the same.