law and solutions

Can You Recognize the Solution?

By Doug Noll


One of the most perplexing challenges I see as a mediator and peacemaker is the refusal of people to take peace when it is handed to them on a silver platter. Almost every time I give a talk, someone comes up at the end and tells me about a family fight, a partnership dispute, or a lawsuit. The conversation invariably starts with “Where were you when I needed you a year ago?”

I spent a lot of money on marketing, thinking that I could educate people about peacemaking and professional mediation. In my travels, I would encounter people who would recognize me. Typically, they would say something like “You are doing great work, keep it up.” The problem was that when these people faced a deep conflict, they completely forgot about me. It turns out that we are blind to peace when we are in conflict. Our brains simply cannot see any solution other than continued conflict and fighting.

Neuroscientists tell us that repeated thoughts actually carve neuro-pathways into the brain. The thought becomes hard-wired into our brains. And when a thought is carved in like that, it doesn't just affect our thinking. It affects our entire physiology. Like ruts on a country road, the deeper the pathway or rut, the more likely we are to fall into it and travel along it.
So, say you have the persistent thought: “There's no way out of this mess.” “There's no way out of this mess.” And you feel the tension, the anxiety, maybe the fear that goes with it. “There's no way out of this mess!” Well, when suddenly you’re presented with a opportunity for peace or another creative solution, what neuro-pathway kicks in? It certainly won't be: “Aha! What a great idea! I knew it would work out!” No. It will be: “There's no way out of this mess!”

That persistent thought becomes linked neurons forming a track, actual substance in the brain that researchers can see using a functional magnetic imaging scanner. It's no longer just a fleeting thought or lightly held opinion. It's hard-wired into your brain as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth!

So if your reality is that there is no hope for your conflict to ever be resolved, then your conflict will never be resolved. On the other hand, you can shift your reality to one of hope for peace and, suddenly, everything changes. While you still face a difficult conflict, the possibility of reaching a resolution without destroying relationships exists, however slight. Now you can find your personal tools or seek outside help with the conflict. You can think outside the conflict box and conceive of other outcomes.

What can you do to create a different reality if you feel completely enmeshed in a conflict? First, be aware of your own inner voice dismissing peacemaking as foolish, impractical, and useless. Those thoughts by the ruts burned into your brain by the conflict and are absolutely false. You can step aside those thoughts and imagine: “What if?” 

One good way for changing your reality is to search for stories of redemption and peace. You would be amazed at how many books, articles, and websites can inspire you with people who were faced hopeless, conflict-ridden lives and found peace. The success of others can motivate you to change your reality.

Second, you can talk to a peacemaker. You will find peacemakers in every community, some of them professionally trained and others simply intuitive. Ask your peacemaker to listen to you and help you reflect on your conflict. You will shift your reality with the help of someone who has deep experience in conflict and peace.

Just because you have changed your reality, does not mean that peace will come easily. Peacemaking is the hardest work a human being can engage in. All you have to do is look at some of the intractable conflicts around the world to appreciate the difficulty of creating peace. Peacemaking within a family business, between a husband and wife, or work is just as difficult. Once the reality of peace exists, you have to have patience, persistence, and courage. The outer work of peacemaking often requires inner examination, which can be painful. As you confront your inner pain, the old reality may reassert itself: “What a mess!” “What a mess!” recognize the old reality as a mechanism for protecting you against the pain of change. It will pass, and you will find peace on the other side of the challenge.

Doug Noll’s personal journey from an aggressive trial lawyer to peacemaker challenges people to follow their hearts and dreams to make a difference in the world. His stories of transformation show how you can be effective no matter what you do. Doug gives tips on negotiation, peacemaking, and conflict transformation along the way.

Dynamic Living Magazine Issue Vol. 2  March/April 2011 The End