In the last Rule about curiosity and criticism, we described the way reactions can be triggered in the NSL engagement. Reactions are those moments that escape our control. They seem immediate and automatic. We lose it.
A prominent professor from Harvard wrote a book about negotiation with a set of rules that included “catching yourself” before you get this way and telling yourself “don’t go there.” The rule looks great in theory but he misses the point entirely. Reactions take over the biology. You are there before you even know you were heading there. It could be a look, a word, a joke taken the wrong way, a rebuff, a touch. It seems to set off an explosion that is hugely out of proportion to the trigger.
Reactivity becomes characteristic of the war game that needs to keep people on edge, hyper vigilant, ever ready to defend as to attack. A kid throws a rock at a soldier and in fear for his life, the soldier shoots to kill. That is a reaction. A woman runs towards a checkpoint with a knife screaming about losing her son. That is a reaction. These two events happened in Jerusalem last year when i was there. Your friend posts a picture of a controversial figure on Facebook and you immediately write a snide comment accusing him of treacherous intent. That is a reaction,
Violence becomes this spiral because it is the reaction that provokes a reaction, in a expanding chain of escalation. The boss shouts at the worker, the worker screams at his wife, the wife screams at the kids, the kid kicks the dog. Taking a pause, responding to the reaction, interrupts the cycle.
What NSL asks its fellows to do as part of their self learning and reflection is to test out what makes them reactionary. To name it and observe it as an experiment. The famous therapist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl wrote,
Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Reaction to a reaction makes for a reactionary world. Everyone is on edge, because everyone is enacting a primitive story of kill or be killed. The body thinks the Facebook comment is deadly- or the stone thrown from a mile away is somehow a threat. A response would soon show that this is dangerously crazy thinking. If you want people to hate you, treat them as if they want to murder you. Then, even if they never did, you will have provoked them into acting that way. We have to break this cycle.
Response to a reaction allows time for pause, take a deep breath. Calm your biology, as our Guest Professor and expert in trauma, Mary Fowler says or practice mindfulness, as our Guest Professor Greg Robison teaches the fellows. it is not easy, especially coming from a war zone. But it is absolutely necessary to dwell in that space that Frankl talks about. There lies our growth and our freedom.