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The View from the Edge

We say we don't like confrontation. We claim to be conflict adverse. We profess to like people, yet we regularly tangle with certain persons. Much of the time we back off. We step away. We might even withdraw all the way to the edge of things. It is from that safe spot we observe what others are doing. With our observations comes critique. From our distance we can pretend we are still connected. Still in relationship. Still a part of the whole. But really, we don't have the best perspective viewing others from the edge.

A colleague recently said, "I wish people could recognize the gift of conflict." We might balk at that kind of talk. But we also might shirk our responsibility to speak honestly or to act authentically among others of our kind. When we feel irritated by someone or upset by another's behavior, we have an opportunity to learn... about ourselves as well as the other. It's hard work, of course. We won't find everyone stunningly lovely up close all the time. And we won't see breathtaking beauty within ourselves all the time either, especially as we sort out what triggers our less-than-loving responses to certain persons. The view from the edge of things is seldom in focus so it doesn't hurt so much.

Parker J. Palmer developed what he calls "touchstones" for being in community and fostering trust among persons. There are eleven of them. They are all wise and worthy of adopting. A few that have bearing on the view from the edge are: "Speak your truth in ways that respect other people's truth. Our views of reality may differ, but speaking one's truth does not mean interpreting, correcting or debating what others say. Speak from your center using 'I' statements, trusting people to do their own sifting and winnowing," and "When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. If you feel judgmental, or defensive, ask yourself, 'I wonder what brought her to this belief?' 'I wonder what he's feeling right now?' 'I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?' Set aside judgment to listen to others - and to yourself - more deeply," and the simple yet challenging "No fixing, saving, advising, or correcting." []

When we withdraw from others or avoid certain persons or camp out at the edge of things, we deny others the gift of ourselves, and we foreclose on the opportunities to receive the gift of others as well as to learn... even from conflict. This weekend we turn a corner and venture into Holy Week. What if Jesus had stayed on the Mount of Olives in order to avoid the interpersonal tension in Jerusalem? What if he had chosen to play it safe from afar, viewing the swirling events of our history from the edge of things?

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