One of the highlights of a recent trip to New York was seeing the Broadway production of “Wicked” – the story of the Wizard of Oz from the perspective of Elphaba, the (Wicked) Witch of the West.
Without revealing details of the humorous and touching production, its magic lies in the empathy we quickly develop for the Elphaba character as we learn her back-story. I belief the same applies to interpersonal conflict: knowing someone’s back-story could not help but foster empathy for those with whom we are at odds.
As I’ve outlined in previous blogs about the “drama triangle” of conflict, the roles of hero and villain are often two sides of the same coin: one person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist. When we position ourselves as the (righteous) hero in a conflict, our claim to the moral high ground can justify behaviour that would otherwise be seen as aggressive or inappropriate – after all, “they had it coming.” This simplistic view that “I’m right, they’re wrong” blinds us to the broader perspective and hampers our ability to empathize or understand those we deem to the be villain in our conflicts.
I recall attending a lecture by motivational speaker Zig Ziglar years ago, in which he addressed the topic of compassion. He told us that if we assumed that another person (especially those we found to be difficult) were in pain, we would be right 99% of the time. He said that if we knew the struggles they had faced and the suffering they had endured, we could not help but admire their courage.
While we will never know the full story of those with whom we are in conflict, we can still remain mindful that they are doing the best they can to get what they think they need. By bringing curiosity and compassion to our dealings with them, we can shed the labels of hero and villain and connect through our shared humanity.