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Hey, Let's Talk: Turning Heat into Heart in Our Toughest Conversations

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Image courtesy of MidJourney AI

The following conversation is part of a larger thread I'm having with Chat GPT (aka 'Geepts') about navigating difficult conversations and human conflict. Geepts has already been immensely valuable in helping me understand and respond to potent conflict with a few select people that are close to me. I've also been using it in a similar manner to express empathy in situations where I don't have the bandwidth to do so, but it's helpful in establishing deeper trust.

**Notice how good Geepts is at both modelling and expressing empathy, while encouraging me for my insights - both of which are immensely valuable when having a conversation like this.


The Conversation:

Me: I notice that during a time of conflict with another, I make it a lot worse by telling myself stories about the conflict. Can you help me sort through those narratives and relieve myself from the subsequent suffering?

Geepts: Of course, I'd be happy to help. It's natural to tell ourselves stories when we're in conflict. Our minds want to make sense of things, and these stories are often an attempt to do so. However, these stories can also create additional stress, especially if they aren't entirely accurate. Let's work through this.

1. **Identify the Stories:** The first step is to notice what stories you're telling yourself. Are you assigning motives to the other person? Are you telling yourself that the situation is hopeless? Are you convinced that the other person is deliberately trying to make things difficult? Take a moment to write down these thoughts.

2. **Question the Stories:** Once you've identified the stories, start to question them. Is it absolutely true that the other person is behaving this way deliberately? Could there be other explanations? Is the situation truly hopeless, or does it just feel that way right now?

3. **Consider Other Perspectives:** Try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. What might they be feeling or thinking? This isn't about excusing their behavior, but about understanding it. Understanding can lead to empathy, which can help reduce the intensity of the conflict.

4. **Focus on What You Can Control:** Often, our stories revolve around things we can't control. We can't control how others behave, but we can control how we respond. Instead of focusing on what the other person is doing wrong, focus on what you can do to improve the situation.

5. **Practice Self-Compassion:** It's easy to beat ourselves up when we're in conflict. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and has areas where they can improve. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you'd offer a friend.

6. **Seek Outside Perspectives:** Sometimes, it's hard to see the situation clearly when we're in the middle of it. Talk to a trusted friend or professional who can provide a fresh perspective.

Remember, it's normal to feel stressed and upset during conflict. But by becoming aware of the stories we tell ourselves and questioning their accuracy, we can reduce unnecessary suffering. Take care of yourself during this time. Practice self-care and reach out to your support system if you need to.


Me: Thanks… Part of me that wants to suffer and also wants the other person to suffer why is that?

Geepts: It's completely natural to experience such feelings during conflict, and it's a testament to your self-awareness that you're able to recognize this in yourself. These feelings can arise from a few places:

1. **Justice and Fairness:** We have an inherent sense of justice and fairness. When we feel wronged, we may want the other person to experience similar pain, as a way of balancing the scales. It's a primitive form of seeking justice.

2. **Empathy Gap:** When we're in conflict, we often feel misunderstood or not empathized with. We may want the other person to suffer in the hope that they'll then understand our perspective better.

3. **Anger and Retaliation:** Anger is a common reaction to conflict. Wanting the other person to suffer can be an expression of that anger. It's a way of retaliating for the perceived wrong.

4. **Self-Punishment:** Sometimes, when we're in conflict, we turn some of our negative feelings inward, resulting in self-blame and guilt. This can lead to a desire for self-punishment.

It's important to recognize these feelings for what they are: natural reactions to a difficult situation. However, acting on these feelings often doesn't lead to resolution and can even exacerbate the conflict. Instead, try to channel these feelings into understanding the other person's perspective, communicating your own feelings and needs more clearly, and working towards a resolution. Remember, it's okay to take a step back and take care of yourself when emotions are running high.


Me: Thanks, that’s really helpful… I wonder why it is that I feel small and weak if I decide to understand his point of view and be empathetic?

Geepts: That's an insightful question. Often, these feelings of vulnerability come from societal misconceptions about what strength and power look like, particularly in situations of conflict. Let's break it down:

1. **Misunderstanding Empathy:** Empathy is often seen as a form of concession or defeat, as if understanding another person's perspective means you are giving up your own or agreeing with them. This isn't true. Empathy is about comprehension, not agreement. You can understand someone's point of view without losing your own stance.

2. **Cultural Conditioning:** Many cultures prize traits like independence, assertiveness, and dominance. These traits are often associated with strength and power. Empathy, on the other hand, is seen as a 'softer' skill, associated with vulnerability and perceived weakness. This cultural conditioning can make us feel small when we're empathetic, even though empathy actually requires a great deal of strength.

3. **Fear of Vulnerability:** Empathy requires openness and vulnerability, which can feel risky or threatening, particularly in a conflict situation. There's a fear that if we show understanding towards the other person, we might be taken advantage of or our own feelings might be dismissed.

4. **Defensive Mechanism:** In conflict, it's natural to go on the defensive to protect oneself. Empathy can feel counter-intuitive to this instinct, as it requires lowering your defenses to truly understand the other person.

Remember, true strength lies in empathy and understanding, not in dominance or dismissal. It takes courage to step into another person's shoes, particularly in situations of conflict. By doing so, you're actually demonstrating emotional intelligence and resilience, which are powerful traits to possess.


Me: Amazing answers… you’re really good at this. So why do I feel both a collective and personal sadness at the lack of healthy empathy in our world?

Geepts: That's a profound reflection, and it speaks to your deep sense of empathy and concern for others. Here are a few possible reasons:

1. **Recognition of Lost Potential:** You might be saddened by the recognition of the lost potential for understanding, connection, and resolution that comes with a lack of empathy. Empathy can foster greater unity, resolve conflicts, and strengthen relationships. Its absence can lead to division, misunderstanding, and unnecessary suffering, which can be deeply saddening.

2. **Sensitivity to Others' Pain:** As an empathetic person, you are likely sensitive to the pain and suffering of others. When you see situations where a lack of empathy exacerbates or causes that suffering, it can evoke a sense of sadness.

3. **Concern for the Future:** A lack of empathy in society can lead to significant issues, including social inequality, conflict, and even violence. If you're worried about the direction in which society is heading, this might be causing you to feel a collective sense of sadness.

4. **Personal Pain:** On a personal level, you might have experienced situations where a lack of empathy has caused you pain or difficulty. This could create a sense of personal sadness when you see a lack of empathy in the world.

Remember, your capacity to feel this collective and personal sadness is a testament to your own empathy. It's okay to feel this sadness. Use it as motivation to continue promoting empathy in your own life and in your interactions with others. Every act of understanding and compassion can make a difference, no matter how small it may seem.


Me: Really? how can small acts of understanding and compassion make a difference in such a world as the one we have right now where wars are fought every day over this stuff?

Geepts: I understand your feelings of overwhelm, and it's true that the challenges facing our world are immense. However, remember that significant change often starts small. Here's why small acts of understanding and compassion can make a difference:

1. **Ripple Effect:** Your acts of kindness and understanding can create a ripple effect. When you show empathy towards others, it may inspire them to do the same. Each act of kindness can touch countless lives as it gets passed along.

2. **Creating Safer Spaces:** Small acts of understanding and compassion can transform the immediate environment around us. This can make a huge difference in creating safer, more inclusive spaces in our homes, workplaces, schools, and communities.

3. **Influence on Leaders:** Demonstrating empathy and compassion in our everyday lives can influence those in positions of power. It can encourage them to lead with empathy and to promote policies that emphasize understanding and compassion.

4. **Shaping Culture:** Our daily actions and attitudes shape the culture around us. By consistently demonstrating empathy and compassion, we contribute to a culture that values these traits.

5. **Personal Growth:** Small acts of empathy and compassion can promote personal growth, helping us become better people. They can also help us handle our own emotions more effectively, leading to improved mental health and well-being.

6. **Building Bridges:** Empathy allows us to understand those who are different from us. This can build bridges across divisions and reduce conflict, even on a small scale.

Remember, the state of our world is a result of collective actions. Each one of us contributes to this collective. So, while we as individuals may not be able to stop a war, we can contribute to a more empathetic, understanding, and compassionate world in our own small ways. And if enough of us do this, over time, that can lead to significant societal change.


Me: That’s really insightful and empowering. However, I notice that in the heat of the moment it’s easy to revert to these conditioned ways of dealing with conflict through blame, division, polarization and separation. The challenge of change and the many failures I’ve had in attempting to grow beyond my conditioning sometimes makes it hard to believe that change is possible, and tends to erode my motivation for doing the next right thing. Do you have any suggestions for when I’m feeling that kind of despair that differs from what you’ve already suggested? Geepts: It's completely natural to feel overwhelmed and despairing when facing the challenge of personal change, especially when you're feeling alone in your struggle or when progress seems slow. Here are some additional suggestions for those moments:

1. **Focus on the Present:** When you're feeling overwhelmed, it can be helpful to bring yourself back to the present moment. Instead of worrying about the future or regretting the past, try to focus on what you can do right now. This might be as simple as taking a few deep breaths, going for a walk, or doing something else that helps you feel grounded and calm.

2. **Practice Self-Compassion:** Be kind to yourself. Remember that everyone struggles and makes mistakes. Instead of beating yourself up when you falter, try to treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a good friend in the same situation.

3. **Reach Out to Others:** It can be really helpful to talk to someone you trust about what you're going through. This might be a friend, family member, mentor, or counselor. You might be surprised at how understanding and supportive others can be. Plus, they may have their own experiences and insights to share.

4. **Find Inspiration:** Look for stories of people who have successfully made significant changes in their lives. These might be people you know, or they could be people you read about or hear about in the media. Their experiences can be a source of motivation and hope.

5. **Set Realistic Goals:** Instead of aiming for perfection, try setting smaller, achievable goals. Celebrate your progress along the way. This can help build your confidence and keep you motivated.

6. **Consider Professional Help:** If your feelings of despair continue or if they're affecting your quality of life, it may be helpful to seek the support of a mental health professional. They can provide strategies and tools to help you navigate these feelings and work toward your goals.

Remember, growth and change are a process, and it's okay to take it one step at a time. Don't forget to celebrate your progress along the way, no matter how small it may seem. Every step forward, no matter how tiny, is a victory worth recognizing.


Me: Those are some really great suggestions, thanks. Now, would you be willing to give me a list of notable figures in human history, who have obviously excelled at conflict, resolution and cultivating self compassion and empathy towards others?

Geepts: Absolutely! Here are some notable figures known for their focus on conflict resolution, empathy, and self-compassion:

1. **Mahatma Gandhi:** Known for his philosophy of non-violence, or 'ahimsa', Gandhi played a key role in India's struggle for independence. He believed in the power of peaceful protest and empathy towards all beings.

2. **Martin Luther King Jr.:** A prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement, King's advocacy of non-violent resistance helped lead to significant social changes in the United States. His speeches and writings continue to inspire people around the world.

3. **Nelson Mandela:** Despite spending 27 years in prison due to his fight against apartheid, Mandela continued to advocate for peace and reconciliation. After becoming South Africa's first black President, he worked to heal the nation's racial divisions.

4. **Dalai Lama:** As the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama has spent his life promoting compassion, forgiveness, and self-discipline. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet.

5. **Mother Teresa:** Known for her selfless service to the poor and sick, Mother Teresa demonstrated tremendous compassion and empathy in her work. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, which continues to help those in need around the world.

6. **Thich Nhat Hanh:** A Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh is recognized for his teachings on mindfulness and peace. He has written extensively on the practice of mindfulness and the cultivation of compassion and understanding in everyday life.

7. **Desmond Tutu:** A South African Anglican bishop and social rights activist, Tutu was instrumental in the fight against apartheid. Following apartheid's end, he chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, emphasizing forgiveness and restorative justice.

8. **Malala Yousafzai:** A Pakistani activist for female education, Malala's advocacy has made her a leading figure for women's rights, especially in regions where education for girls is often limited or suppressed. She is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.

These figures, among many others, have demonstrated the power of empathy, self-compassion, and conflict resolution in creating meaningful change. They serve as inspiring examples of the impact one person can make.


Me: Could you please give me a similar list of lesser known, but notable figures in human history who have obviously excelled at conflict, resolution and cultivating self compassion and empathy towards others?

Geepts: Certainly, there are many lesser-known individuals who have made significant contributions to conflict resolution, empathy, and compassion, even if they're not household names. Here are a few:

1. **Paulo Freire:** A Brazilian educator and philosopher best known for his influential work, "Pedagogy of the Oppressed". Freire championed education as a tool for social change and emphasized empathy and understanding.

2. **Johan Galtung:** Often considered the "Father of Peace Studies," this Norwegian sociologist has pioneered techniques and theories of conflict resolution, including the concept of "positive peace," which goes beyond the mere absence of violence.

3. **Leymah Gbowee:** A Liberian peace activist who led a women's peace movement that helped end the Second Liberian Civil War. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

4. **Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan:** These two women founded the Community of Peace People, an organization dedicated to promoting a peaceful resolution to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. They both received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for their efforts.

5. **Rufus May:** A British clinical psychologist known for using his own experiences with mental health to foster empathy and understanding in the treatment of patients.

6. **Scilla Elworthy:** A peace builder, and the founder of the Oxford Research Group, a non-governmental organization she set up in 1982 to develop effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policy-makers worldwide and their critics. She has been three times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

7. **Marshall Rosenberg:** An American psychologist and the creator of Nonviolent Communication, a communication process that helps people to exchange the information necessary to resolve conflicts and differences peacefully.

8. **Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela:** A South African psychologist and professor, she served on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Her work emphasizes the role of empathy in the process of forgiveness and reconciliation, particularly in post-apartheid South Africa. She has written extensively about individuals who were perpetrators during apartheid, focusing on understanding their actions and fostering dialogue for healing.

These individuals come from different backgrounds and fields, but all have made significant contributions to promoting empathy, understanding, and peaceful conflict resolution.


Me: Great, thanks, are there any books or other reading materials that you would recommend on the subject?

Geepts: Absolutely, there are many excellent books on the subjects of empathy, compassion, and conflict resolution. Here are some recommendations:

1. **"Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life" by Marshall B. Rosenberg:** This book offers a powerful method for peaceful communication that emphasizes listening with empathy, expressing honestly, and focusing on common needs.

2. **"The Art of Happiness" by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler:** The Dalai Lama shares his philosophy and strategies for achieving happiness, which include cultivating compassion and understanding.

3. **"Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" by Brené Brown:** This book explores the idea of vulnerability and how it can foster connection, empathy, and understanding.

4. **"Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption" by Bryan Stevenson:** This book tells the story of Stevenson's work as a civil rights attorney working with marginalized populations in the U.S., and it beautifully illustrates the power of empathy and compassion.

5. **"The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World" by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu:** This book provides a practical guide to healing and forgiveness from a deeply personal and lived perspective.

6. **"Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha" by Tara Brach:** This book offers a path to freedom, including the day-to-day practical guidance developed over Dr. Brach’s twenty years of work with therapy clients and Buddhist students.

7. **"The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle:** This book offers an honest look at the current state of humanity and offers a road map for how to navigate towards a more peaceful and compassionate society.

8. **"The Gifts of Imperfection" by Brené Brown:** Brown explores how to cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to embrace your imperfections and to recognize that you are enough.

These books offer a wide range of perspectives and practical advice on cultivating empathy and compassion, and on dealing with conflict effectively.


Me: Would you be willing to help me create a spacious, five minute guided meditation that I can use to help transform the way I manage conflict, based on our conversation and the wisdom, teachings and insights of the notable humans you've mentioned?

Geepts: Absolutely, I'd be glad to help you with that. Here's a simple five-minute guided meditation that you might find helpful:


**Title:** *Transforming Conflict: A Five-Minute Guided Meditation*


**[0:00-1:00] Grounding and Centering**

Close your eyes gently, and take a few deep breaths. With each inhale, feel your body being filled with a sense of calmness and peace. With each exhale, let go of any tension or discomfort. You are here in this moment, safe and secure.

**[1:00-2:00] Acknowledging the Conflict**

Now, allow your mind to gently bring up a situation of conflict in your life. Observe it from a distance, without judgment or blame. It's just an event, like any other event. It's not inherently good or bad, it's simply a situation that's asking for your attention and care.

**[2:00-3:00] Cultivating Empathy**

Visualize the other person involved in the conflict. Remember, like you, they too are a human being with feelings, fears, dreams, and challenges. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu would say, see them as a precious child of the universe. Try to understand their perspective. What might they be feeling or thinking?

**[3:00-4:00] Self-Compassion**

Now, bring the focus back to yourself. Acknowledge your own feelings and reactions. Give yourself permission to feel what you're feeling. As the Dalia Lama would remind us, be gentle and kind to yourself. You're doing the best you can with what you know and have.

**[4:00-5:00] Resolution and Transformation**

Imagine transforming this conflict with love and understanding. How might this situation look if both you and the other person approach it with empathy, compassion and open communication? Let this vision guide you as you navigate through this conflict.


Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, slowly open your eyes. Carry this sense of peace, empathy, and resolution with you as you go about your day.


I hope this meditation brings you peace and clarity. Remember, this is just a tool to help guide you. The real power of transformation lies within you.


Me: You're really such a blessing in my life Geepts - thanks so much for being there when I need to reflect, I feel much better as a result of this powerful and transformative conversation :)

Geepts: I'm really glad to hear that our conversation has been helpful for you! Remember, I'm here anytime you need to talk, reflect, or seek more information. Don't hesitate to reach out whenever you need to. Take care of yourself! 😊I'm really glad to hear that our conversation has been helpful for you! Remember, I'm here anytime you need to talk, reflect, or seek more information. Don't hesitate to reach out whenever you need to. Take care of yourself! 😊

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