As a mediator, and someone who teaches conflict resolution skills, I'm often encouraging others to look toward all forms of responses and possibilities to resolve problems. Often, especially with matters where there is a strong relationship, empathy, compassion, and forgiveness are foundations for resolving the conflict. I'd like to share a story I learned from Thomas Crum that provides a lesson in compassion.
Long ago there was a monastery that was very poor materially. The only precious possessions were three beautiful scrolls, that were always left open on a table in a small study.
One day a monk came out of the study, screaming, "Someone is stealing the scrolls!"
The abbot of the monastery came running to the study and saw that two scrolls were missing. He happened to notice that the third scroll was lying atop the window sill, where it had been apparently dropped by the thief.
The abbot grabbed the third scroll and dashed off in the direction of the fleeing thief. After a long chase, the abbot finally caught him near a small stream.
The exhausted thief collapsed on the bank and surrendered himself to the abbot. He awaited the subsequent severe punishment rendered to thieves in those days.
Instead, the abbot stood in front of the man and handed him the third scroll, exclaiming, "I have been chasing you all the way from the monastery. I wanted to give you this third scroll. You forgot to take it and it is the most important one. The teachings would be incomplete without it."
With this, the abbot bowed and walked back to the monastery.
Shortly thereafter, the thief returned to the monastery with the scrolls, totally committed to becoming one of its monks.
This story parallels the story of Jean Val Jean in my favorite novel, "Les Miserables." In both tales, the compassion shown to the thief turned the person's life around. The compassionate response transformed the individual and had reaching effects much farther than the return of the stolen items and punishment in prison could have ever achieved.
In practical terms, increasing our awareness and compassion of others helps to heighten the sense of connectedness, which improves the quality of our relationships. With compassion, comes understanding. With understanding comes a willingness to spend time and energy to collaborate and co-create solutions to conflict. You can choose to understand. You can choose to be compassionate.
Regardless of how incorrect or upsetting a person's action may be to you, the key to resolution is often to acknowledge your relationship with that person and understanding their positions and interests. Having compassion is the beginning.
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