Greg's Reviews > The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict

The Anatomy of Peace by Arbinger Institute
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Jan 16, 09

bookshelves: professional-development, personal-development, fiction-and-humor, lifetime-keepers
Read in December, 2008

Who among us, while riding the highways and byways, has not been cut off, encroached upon, or otherwise put in danger by another vehicle? In that situation, how did you react – emotionally, interpersonally, and physically? If, like me, you regret some of the things you thought, said, or did, then perhaps this book is for you.

It is not the typical conflict management book. Those are often useful, but I have become increasingly convinced that we need not “manage” conflict. Rather, we can heal our broken emotional reactions that lead to unproductive, often destructive, interpersonal (and intrapersonal) conflict. Several books I have read over the last few years (notably around dialogue) speak powerfully to this thought, and The Anatomy of Peace is another that fills an important gap in my development on this topic. This is another in that genre of books that teaches concepts accessibly through the medium of a fictional story. I found myself reading it with a pen and notebook ready to hand, because there is much of worth in it.

The idea of self-fulfilling prophecy suggests that by our own attitudes, beliefs, and expectations and resulting actions we often bring about the very results that we attribute to another’s motives. For example, my daughter’s MSF Basic Rider Course motorcycle safety course teacher gave her some challenging tasks and moved her through the course more quickly than the young men in the class. When I asked him about that at the end, he told me that he decided she could handle the faster pace when I introduced her as a top student in her high school and an accomplished driver. When I later asked Jessie how she felt about the pace of the class, she said at first she was concerned but then decided the teacher must have some evidence to believe that she was capable of a faster pace. She applied herself, concentrated, and performed at a high level.

Certainly Jessie is competent and smart, but it is also true that her teacher’s expectations and Jessie’s resulting self-expectations were strong contributing factors in her high performance. That is, her teacher prophesied high performance, he treated her accordingly, Jessie’s own self-expectations and subsequent behavior were influenced, and she fulfilled his “prophecy.” OK, with that background, let’s dive in to The Anatomy of Peace. I don’t have space to everything I found insightful, nor do I want to ruin the joy of discover for those of you who might read the book. So, I’ll just hit some highlights that stood out for me.

First, the authors begin with the idea of a “change” pyramid. Think of an iceberg – we only see a small portion of the massive whole of the berg. In a similar fashion, we can separate change into two portions. The smaller, and much more visible, is identifying and dealing with things that are going wrong. The much larger, and far more important part, is helping things go right…identifying what is going well and building on that positive base. They argue that, consequently, we should spend much more of our time helping things go right than focusing on the negative, but typically our behavior reflects just the opposite approach. If we don’t work the bottom part of the pyramid, we will be ineffectual at the top.

Second, the authors then bring up the notion of “hearts at peace” versus “hearts at war.” Like any eternal principle, this is one that may be found mentioned frequently in the scriptures, though the authors of The Anatomy of Peace are addressing a more general audience. See, for example, Matt. 12:34, Luke 6:45, and others that speak to this idea. As the authors write, “The state of your heart toward your children – whether at peace or at war – is by far the most important factor…” From my marginal notes, when our hearts are at war we reduce others to the status of objects and cease to see them as real people. We soon stop treating them with the patience, compassion, and love due a child of God. Operationally, we cease to be able to understand another person’s concerns, fears, anxieties, and challenges as easily as our own, or sufficiently to be able to help. And in the end, we provoke hurtful behavior from them…remember the self-fulfilling prophecy? That has all sorts of implications for our relationships with others, and with the Savior himself.

Another consequence of the heart at war is the propensity to demonize others. We do this by categorizing them into lifeless groupings. Again, the end result is that we turn people into objects, allowing the “luxury” of treating them inhumanely, and thus make them into our enemies. Interestingly, a heart at war like this (or the opposite of a heart at peace) is a way of being. What that means is that I can appear to be right on the surface, in my behavior or stated positions, and still have a heart at war. In such a situation, we cannot maintain the façade for long…whited sepulchers come to mind. Interestingly, and again consistent with eternal truths, having a heart at war is a choice, and when I make that choice I commit an act of self-betrayal which diminishes and hardens me, taking me further from that which I most desire. It is, in fact, an act of war, but as much against me as against another human being.

A heart at war needs fuel…it needs enemies. So, we look for self-justifying ways to maintain the fiction that we have created, and ultimately to bring about the self-fulfilling prophecy. In The Anatomy of Peace, four common types of self-justification “boxes” are described in which we imprison ourselves all too often. They are labeled as follows:

• The Better-Than Box
• The I-Deserve Box
• The Must-Be-Seen-As Box
• The Worse-Than Box

Each of these keeps us in a cycle of self-justification and blame that supports a heart at war. We construct these boxes with a lifetime of choices, but it is equally true that we choose whether to remain in the box or not! We emerge from our boxes when we choose to join others in their world…that is, to empathize with them. We need not join them in their choices, but we must un-dehumanize them. These are acts of humility that turn our hearts from war to peace. Responsive curiosity is one way to get there…that is, actively search for alternative choices that take us out of our boxes.

I have not done the ideas in this book justice with my short review, but my hope, as always, is that it will be enough of a teaser to cause those in need to search out the book and read it. I find myself increasingly drawn to intellectual work that I believe is built on eternal principles, and this is one such volume.
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