Friday, November 10, 2023

Repairing Brokenness


There is an activity we often do in Conflict Resolution Workshops. I call it Fight/Flight. Two people stand facing each other. One person puts their hands in front of them with their palms down. The other places their hands under the hands of the other, palms up. The object of the activity is for the one with hands lower, to raise them out and up, and hit the hands of the other before they are able to get away. You can aim at one hand or both; both ways count. Once the hitter completely misses, you change roles, and the hitter becomes the one to be hit.
It’s a children’s game, with potential for new learnings, with one simple, additional instruction; breathing! After the Fight/Flight has been going on for a while, participants are invited to share their experience, especially focusing on what was going on with their body. Was there tension? Where? Are you better at fighting or fleeing? And, how was your breathing? Were you hyperventilating; holding your breath? Most people tend to hold their breath!

The next step is, everyone is invited to play again; this time taking deep breaths the whole time. Inevitably, some are unable to flee (like me). The tension in their arms is so feeble, they simply get hit again and again, till the hitter gets bored and quits. Some are unable to keep breathing deeply, allowing the tension to continue arising. Some few get better and quicker, like the basketball free throw shooter who always breathes deeply before taking the shot.

People then have an opportunity to share their reactions. How does deep breathing impact their body and their responses to conflict? For me, the exercise now becomes Fight/Flight/Flow, or Fight/Flight/Other. There is always an option to fighting or fleeing! Always! Breathe!

This past week, a friend was sharing something in her family life that was making her angry. As she told the story about this distressing situation, her voice rose and you could see the increasing tension in her body. Having an awareness of her own personal mind/body relationship, she waved her arms up and down as if to take flight or bring herself down to earth, all while taking deep breaths. She had obviously learned how to flow, when fight/flight threatened. She concluded her remarks about the situation in a quieter and calmer way, which suggested to me the conflict had a chance of being addressed and perhaps resolved in a creative way.

In the book of Genesis, one learns that God breathed into Adam the “breath of life”. Perhaps to be truly healthy and living, we need to make our breathing more conscious, more often. Perhaps we could all benefit from deep breathing processes like meditation, yoga, or prayer. Perhaps that would also make the breath of life more present to us, in times of conflict and rage.

Our society needs help breathing; desperately! On Saturday, July 8, we have now had 11 mass shootings since the first of the month. There have been 348 since the beginning of the year. You can be killed at a block party, a mall, in church, in school, at a parade, a nightclub, a movie theatre, in the hospital, etc. I can’t think of anyplace where you aren’t subject to death by gunfire and the numbers keep growing. Where is God’s good breath of life for these people; killers and killed alike? How are we helping our children and others learn to breathe in the grip of hate, anger or desperation?

There’s another activity we do in our workshops called Broken Squares. A woodworker friend has made some handsome wooden squares for us, cut into different size pieces. These are arranged in a special way in paper bags, one bag for each of the participants. They will try to put the squares back together, cooperatively, so each person has the same size square in front of them. The rules are: no talking, no grabbing or taking, no motioning, no non-verbal communication. All you can do is offer a piece to another or take or refuse what’s offered.

Often, one person will end up with their square early. But it is not the right combination to allow all the others to finish theirs. This activity is about cooperative decision making. It requires a willingness to share and sacrifice for the greater good.

Our human community is made up of people who have Broken Squares bags with different resources. Our country has been built constructively in the past as we have shared pieces from our bags to build up the common good. But we have begun to build squares that are grossly different from each other. In the first two years of the pandemic, $42 trillion in new wealth was created, with two-thirds of it going to the richest 1% of the world’s population. Small pockets of wealth determine what is good for the commons. We take what encouragement we can from smaller efforts, where people are intent on building neighborly relationships and more equitable community.

What are we to do? The Bible and our common history suggests: “Never forget to show kindness and to share what you have with others, for such are the sacrifices God approves.”

Let’s practice breathing and repairing brokenness.

Carl Kline

No comments: