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Ways of Seeing, Barbara Clearbridge: Transforming conflict with love

This is a small story about a small thing that made a big difference.
When I was in my late 30’s I attended a three-week workshop about living a spiritually based life. There was a fellow there who I didn’t want anything to do with. I found him abrasive and disruptive to the workshop and didn’t believe he belonged there. I was unable even to respect him or honor his spiritual path.
He made it clear that I also rubbed him the wrong way. It was difficult not to feel continually irritated by him, as the 15 or so of us in the workshop spent most of every day together in lectures, exercises, working around the facility, socializing and in worship. Eventually the workshop ended and I was glad not to have to interact with him any more.
About 18 months later, I attended the next workshop in the series. On the first day, I caught sight of that same fellow. His face fell as he saw me. I felt my three weeks there would be significantly spoiled.
That night there was a knock at the door. It was him. With a big smile, he handed me a beautifully wrapped gift. I was shocked. His smile got bigger as I fumbled through my feelings and tried to say something. “I thought it would help us get along better,” he said.
Finally I managed to blurt out, with great feeling, “Thank you!” and he left.
The gift was a lovely cobalt-blue cut-glass drinking glass from the conference center’s gift shop.
He certainly had cut through the bad feelings between us — my opinion of him not only turned around immediately, but I was humbled by the wisdom of what he had done. I was filled with good feelings for him, as was he for me. The act of buying a gift for his enemy had cured us both. It didn’t change our personalities — we didn’t choose to work together as partners at any time during the three-week program — but our lively good feelings for each other lasted, continuing long past the workshop as we encountered each other over the years.
Though we were “enemies” only in a small way, the idea can work in more serious situations. Making a gesture of friendship to someone on the opposite side of an issue removes the feeling of being adversaries. Instead, you now have a situation with two people who recognize they have differences, perhaps major ones, but who have generous feelings and respect for one another. It opens the possibility of achieving a compromise or perhaps, eventually, harmony.
This way of love can be extended to groups in conflict.
It is difficult to love one’s enemy in the abstract. Buying someone a present means thinking about them as a person — who they are, what will give them pleasure. In a mysterious way, this transforms both people.
Barbara Clearbridge, known around town by her nickname “Shulamith” (which means “peace”), has worked as a medical intuitive and energy work practitioner for over 25 years. She is now expanding her practice to include interfaith spiritual direction. She is the author of “Natural First Aid & Simple Health Solutions,” “Heal With Your Hands,” “Finding God By Learning How To Pray,” soon to be reprinted as “Prayers & Spiritual Practices from Many Traditions,” and “Recovery: Women’s Words About Healing After Trauma.” Her website is: FeelingMuchBetter.org. She lives in Middlebury.

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