We don’t know the full story. We know two men came to conflict. Road rage. Things were said. Aggressive actions were taken. Guns were drawn. Shots were fired. A young man died.
A number of people have called or stopped by to ask me my thoughts. How could this happen here — in our quiet community? What can be done to stop this kind of thing? How did things go so horribly wrong?
Beyond the local news, a quick look around the world shows the ugly side of conflict. (And there is another side, by the way.) Why do disagreements escalate? Why do people continue on a path that most certainly will lead to violence?
These questions — and their answers — are complex. Yet, the most practical response is that, in times of conflict, people need space. As a protective process, our brains in times of stress direct every possible ounce of energy to the self. So, when a threat appears, we instantly jump into this place of absolute attention to our own well-being. All of our “space” disappears as we come into direct, raw contact with our fears, our anger, and an all-consuming drive to “win the moment.”
In moments of interpersonal conflict, this grind of conviction and self-centered determination is intensified by the actions of others who are, as a result of their own stress, invading our space. Often, because of our focus on our own needs, we don’t recognize that we are making it more difficult for someone else. Nor do they understand the role they are playing in fueling my negative reactions.
In times like that, people need space. You need space. The conventional wisdom was “count to ten before you answer.” That’s still good advice. But even counting to one will help.
Brain research indicates that many of our daily actions can be classified as impulses. And the brain receives notice of an intended impulse — an “action potential” — about half a second before the action is taken. Amazingly, we can arrest that action and stop it in its track in as little as two-tenths of a second.
But we need that space. And the stronger the emotion and the greater the amount of adrenaline coursing through our blood, the larger that space needs to be.
The first physical action toward keeping peace is in creating that space — first for ourselves, and then for others near by.
The next time you feel strong emotion, but particularly anger, do whatever it takes to create space for a reasoned response. At the very least, count to one.