Book review by Catherine Conner
Cathy Park Hong defines minor feelings as “the racialized range of emotions that are negative, dysphoric, and therefore untelegenic, built from the sediments of everyday racial experience and the irritant of having one’s perception of reality constantly questioned or dismissed.” Her book, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, is both a memoir that describes her experience as the daughter of Korean immigrants and a poet as well as a critical examination of American culture and racism. In our understanding-based model, we emphasize connecting to people at a deeper level, including paying attention to and honoring feelings. This book challenges the reader to be aware of the broad and subtle range of feelings that can arise from being an Asian American while at the same time not creating the expectation of a typical Asian American reaction or behavior. The book does not include her poetry but her writing is reflective of her ability to use language to penetrate and provoke us. This is not a book you read quickly but rather a book that you read and sit with. I highly recommend it.
How Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out by Amanda Ripley
Review by Jennifer Sullivan
It was only because I was midway through Amanda Ripley’s awareness-sharpening new book High Conflict that I winced when I heard President Biden’s quip about Neanderthal thinking. The quick flash of glee – totally, what a stupid time to lift mask mandates – was quickly overshadowed by a line of Ripley’s: “[i]f winning means your neighbors get humiliated, you haven’t won.” When you start to see even your team’s triumphs as tinder, political sniping becomes a little less fun. And that’s the point.
Ripley, a former Time magazine writer and longtime journalist and author, explains that she came to the topic of high conflict – which she distinguishes from “the useful friction of healthy conflict” – after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when she found herself despairing over what felt like the death of curiosity. She set out to better understand our worldwide polarization problem, and tells us what she learned through five main stories, those of an English environmental activist; a former Chicago gang member; a Colombian social justice advocate; a New York synagogue; and the CUC’s co-founder Gary Friedman.
In watching each of these characters submit to – and then outsmart – the gravitational pull of high conflict, the reader sees Ripley’s thesis prove itself: people behave surprisingly similarly across very different types of energy-sucking conflict “Tar Pits.” And despite its small scale, the story of Gary’s friction-filled tour of Muir Beach politics makes Ripley’s point most profoundly: no matter who you are, the allure of high conflict can feel irresistible. Liberation often requires denying your every human impulse to writhe around, to call in your friends, to post a comment telling your conservative Uncle George just how wrong he is.
Ripley does a masterful job of connecting dots between her main characters’ stories, inspiring in the reader an appreciation for complexity, how to hold it, how to make room for curiosity and humility without giving up what’s most important to one’s soul. For readers who have studied the V, this book confirms a hunch many of us have had: the world needs CUC training.
By Dr. Sue Johnson
Review by Melanie Rowen
Hold Me Tight is, on its face, about couples therapy. Originally published in 2008, the book is designed for couples to be able to read together in a self-guided process, and the approach it lays out—Emotionally-Focused Therapy—is used by many couples therapists. (One therapist I know said, “I never felt like I was truly helping couples until I started using the method in this book!”)
But as a mediator and lawyer with no background in psychotherapy, who has a strong interest in helping people to repair and build their relationships through the power of understanding, I have found it to be both fascinating and helpful for supporting many kinds of connections between people.
Hold Me Tight looks at relationships, specifically romantic partnerships, through the lens of attachment theory. So, in a conflict between partners, the question is not just “who did what to whom?” or “what isn’t working in our communication dynamics?” or even “what specific issues are there, and what specific compromises might work?” Rather, the couple needs to attend directly to the connection between them, and to recognize and find ways to honor the need they each have for a secure attachment to the other. In the language of the Understanding-Based Model, this is an approach that “goes beneath the problem.”
The book isn’t perfect; for example, I felt an underlying heteronormativity in it, even though it makes gestures of inclusivity towards same-sex couples. But the accessible and practical knowledge it offers about attachment needs, which underlie many of our hopes, fears, and behaviors in relationships, was, for me, a game-changer for understanding parties in conflict.
Submitted by Melanie Rowen
As we work to understand others, our practices for interpersonal engagement evolve. We learn what feels respectful to others and try to meet that. In A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, a short comic book about non-binary gender identity, Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson beautifully and accessibly explain why basic respect includes using each person’s correct gender pronouns, including the singular “they” when that is the pronoun someone uses. (As in, “Melanie is looking for their pen – they volunteered to take notes.”) It also coaches the reader through different strategies for correcting others who misgender someone. Although it’s a quick read, the book answers many questions that may come up for those who are new to thinking about gender from a non-binary perspective. But primarily, it’s a great tool for shoring up our skills in approaching each other inclusively and with respect, and helping others to do the same.
Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict by Donna Hicks
Book Review by Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton
Dignity will be a welcome addition to the Center for Understanding in Conflict professionals’ library.
Author Donna Hicks explores what dignity is, how we assimilate dignity both personally and with our clients, while bringing dignity practices into our meetings. This book memorializes her experiences facilitating discussions between IRA prisoners and British law enforcement and their families in the documentary, Facing the Truth. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Leslie Bilinda and Ms. Hicks were facilitators in this groundbreaking discussion.
Hicks created three models for understanding and applying dignity to the practice of conflict resolution. She lists 10 Essential Elements of Dignity, 10 Temptations to Violate Dignity and finally How to Heal Relationships with Dignity.
10 Essential Elements of Dignity are briefly as follows:
Assuming others have integrity
this helps us express our authentic self without the fear of negative judgements by or about others.
making sure you feel and others feel that they really belong.
participants are in a place where they feel physically and psychologically safe; no fear of bodily harm or humiliation.
giving others your full attention, “by listening, hearing validating and responding to their concerns, feelings and experiences.” Recognition- validate others for their talents, hard work, thoughtfulness and help. Generously praise, show appreciation and gratitude for contributions and ideas.
treat people justly, in an even handed way according to agree upon laws and rules.
Benefit of the doubt
treat people as trustworthy. Start with the premise that others have good motives and are acting with integrity.
believe that what others think matters. Give them the chance to explain and express their point of view while actively listen with no judgement.
encourage people to act on their own behalf so they feel in control of their lives and experiences, fostering a sense of hope and possibility.
Take responsibility for your actions. If you have violated the dignity of another person, apologize and make a commitment to change your hurtful behaviors.
10 Temptations to Violate Dignity:
Taking the bait.
Don’t let the bad behavior of others determine your own. Restraint is the better part of dignity, just don’t take the bait.
Don’t lie, cover up or deceive yourself. Tell the truth about what you’ve done,
When you have violated the dignity of another, acknowledge it, admit you make a mistake and apologize.
Seeking false dignity
If we depend on others for validation of our worth, we are seeking false dignity. Authentic dignity resides within us.
Seeking false security
If we remain in a relationship in which our dignity is routinely violated, our desire for connection has outweighed our need to maintain our own dignity.
when your dignity is violated take action. A violation is a signal that something in a relationship needs to change, stand up for yourself and don’t avoid confrontation.
Being a victim
don’t assume you are the innocent victim in a troubled relationship. Open yourself up to the idea that you might be contributing the problem.
We often don’t know what we don’t know. We all have blind spots. We need to overcome our self-protective instincts and accept constructive criticism. Feedback gives us an important opportunity to grow.
Blaming and shaming others to deflect your own guilt
Control the urge to defend yourself by making others look bad.
Engaging in false intimacy and demeaning gossip
beware of the tendency to connect by gossip about others in a demeaning way. Being critical and judgmental about others when they are not present is harmful and undignified. If you want to create intimacy with another speak the truth about yourself, about what is happening in your inner world and invite the other person to do the same.
How to Heal Relationships with Dignity
Listen without interrupting or challenging.
Listen to seek understanding. We more commonly listen to our adversaries to one up them and attack.
Acknowledge and recognize what the other has been through.
As I say in my lectures, this does not mean you agree with their point of view. It simply reflects your belief that their point of view is worthy of acknowledgement and recognition. Hicks believes, “Sharing our experiences with expression may help the person we’ve injured in the heat of a conflict feel less defensive or justified.”
Honor and acknowledge each other’s integrity,
thereby creating a mutual bond.
All participants must honor each other’s dignity and agree that sitting down together is worthy of your time and attention. Hick’s believes this is the step that makes all the difference. She notes, “It is much more common to withdraw from those whom we have been in conflict with and refuse to talk to them.”
The process explained in this book reflects conditions that appear to contribute to positive outcomes when facing the truth is enabled and on point with the Center for Understandings teachings. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
The following are books written by our teachers.
This book provides an analysis of understanding conflict. Understanding-based mediation offers people in conflict a way to work together to make decisions that resolve their dispute. The authors explain how to meet conflict itself in an effort to understand how lawyers can relate to it, and use it effectively in mediation.
This book is designed to help people who work with parties in conflict use their inner experiences for the benefit of their clients. It challenges many of the conventions conflict professionals bring to this field, replacing them with a full and deep commitment to bringing all of ourselves to serving those who need us.
In this book, Gary Friedman lists four criteria necessary for every couple about to enter into mediation: motivation to mediate, self-responsibility, willingness to disagree, and willingness to agree. He explains the ground rules, the legal ramifications, and where to find a mediator. Also included are 12 detailed case studies to show how in almost all instances mediation has succeeded with a variety of personalities and situations.
Lojong is the Tibetan Buddhist practice that involves working with short phrases (called “slogans”) as a way of generating bodhichitta, the heart and mind of enlightened compassion. Norman Fischer offers his commentary on the lojong slogans. He applies Zen wisdom to them, showing how well they fit in that related tradition, but he also sets the slogans in the context of resonant practices throughout the spiritual traditions. He shows lojong to be a wonderful method for everyone, including those who aren’t otherwise interested in Buddhism, who don’t have the time or inclination to meditate, or who’d just like to morph into the kind of person who’s focused rather than scattered, generous rather than stingy, and kind rather than thoughtless.
“The conflict Norman Fischer speaks of in this poem is an inherent component of the universe. He writes of the human dilemma, the struggles of daily life, and the desire to ‘hold the world in place,’ showing us how not to be mired in any one spot. Freedom is won by tirelessly moving forward. The lines breathe: the poet’s breath, and the complexity of his thought, visualized on the page.”—Anne Tardos
The question-and-answer format makes this introduction to Zen especially easy to understand—and also to use as a reference, as you can easily look up just the question you had in mind. The esteemed Zen teacher Norman Fischer and his old friend and teaching colleague Susan Moon (both of them in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki, author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind) give this collaborative effort a playful tone: Susan asks a question on our behalf, Norman answers it, and then Sue challenges him. By the time you get through their conversations, you’ll have a good basic education in Zen–not only the history, theory, and practice but also the contemporary issues, such as gender inequality, sexual ethics, and the tension between Asian traditions and the modern American reality.
This engaging contemplation of maturity addresses the long neglected topic of what it means to grow up, and provides a hands–on guide for skilfully navigating the demands of our adult lives. Growing up happens whether we like it or not, but maturity must be cultivated. Challenged to consider his own sense of maturity while mentoring a group of teenage boys, Fischer began to investigate our preconceptions about what it means to be “an adult” and shows how crucial true maturity is to leading an engaged, fulfilled life. Taking Our Places details the marks of a mature person and shows how these attributes can help alleviate our suffering and enrich our relationships. Discussing such qualities as awareness, responsibility, humour, acceptance, and humility, Fischer brings a fresh and at times surprising new perspective that can turn old ideas on their heads and reinvigorate our understanding of what it means to be mature.
In frightening times, we wish the world could be otherwise. With a touch of imagination, it can be. Imagination helps us see what’s hidden, and it shape-shifts reality’s roiling twisting waves. In this inspiring reframe of a classic Buddhist teaching, Zen teacher Norman Fischer writes that the paramitas, or “six perfections”—generosity, ethical conduct, patience, joyful effort, meditation, and understanding—can help us reconfigure the world we live in.
Ranging from our everyday concerns about relationships, ethics, and consumption to our artistic inspirations and broadest human yearnings, Fischer depicts imaginative spiritual practice as a necessary resource for our troubled times.