Each Conflict Is A Chance to Find Our Center

We understand conflict as a bad thing, but conflict is an opportunity to find our center.

olympic skating mistakes - Google Search The Olympics is a study in the relationship of a human being to the world. From a purely physical standpoint the central challenge is to get the relationship right between the athlete’s center of gravity and the center of gravity of the earth. Every time a skater spun her body, every time a skier flew through the air, the degree of perfection was a function of the relationship between these two centers of gravity.

When more than one human being was involved, a social dimension complicated the challenge. With two skaters dancing together on the ice there were two centers each striving not just for balance with the earth, but also for harmony with each other. With music playing two other dimensions were added—each move of the body must be in right relationship with each note of the music, and the souls of the athletes needed to be in sync with the spirit of the music. In each case the degree of success was a direct function of the degree to which each person’s center was in right relationship with everything else. One person’s fall could sometimes cause disequilibrium for another.olympic skating mistakes - duet

Wayne Gretsky (by some accounts the greatest hockey player of all time) was not especially large, strong or fast for a hockey player, and yet, he is the leading point-scorer in National Hockey League history. In four of his 20 seasons he scored over 200 points with more assists than anyone else had points.

Once when an interviewer asked “The Great Gretsky” what was the secret of his success he said, “I have this weird ability to know at all times where the puck is going, where all the other players are, and where I am in relation to them.”

That is exactly what you saw if you watched him play. His awareness of his center and its relationship to everything else is sufficient to explain how he was able to support his friends, dodge his opponents, and make more assists than anyone else scored goals.

This relationship between our center and all the other variables around us is a olympic skating mistakes - Google Search-2metaphor for the challenges of life. It’s the same as learning to ride a bike only more complicated. In life’s challenges the key to success is getting all the parts of ourselves coordinated with our center and with the center of the earth. Our bodies do it without thinking, but the challenges of life can get more complicated, and often require some mindfulness.

Finding our center can be harder in an emotional challenge, for instance. Just as each moment on the ice is unique and requires each skater, yet again, to find a new orientation among thousands of variables, so each new emotional experience requires us to put all the pieces of ourselves together again in a new way. All that mental complexity: our many feelings, habits and disciplines, our imperfect ways of viewing the world, our sloppy understandings, our relationships—bringing it all into harmony requires changing ourselves—at least a little.

Interpersonal conflict is the acid test. A partnership between two people is hard enough, but teamwork adds complexity exponentially with each new participant. Five time-tested mantras can help us keep our balance:
1) Trust your integrity and redefine your center.
2) Pre-forgive the other person.
3) Listen with an openness to change.
4) Speak a common language.
5) Find a common interest and explore multiple outcomes.

Watching the Olympics, my wife and I both marveled at how common it was for an athlete to make a mistake and how illusive perfection was: “How many times in her life has she done a triple toe loop? How often did she practice it? How could she fall?”

“I know. Those two have been skating together for years. How did they miss that one? And at the Olympics!”

olympic mistakes - Google SearchYup, and this morning I burned the bacon. Whether you are writing an essay or cooking a meal, applying for a job or on the brink of losing one, life is a perpetual series of problems to be solved, one right after another. Thinking of life as inevitable conflict can help us find the joy in rediscovering and redefining who we really are in ways that are more inclusive of all our many parts. With practice maybe we can get it right about as often as an Olympic athlete.

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6 Responses to Each Conflict Is A Chance to Find Our Center

  1. Rick Armstrong says:

    The skaters fall because they are pushing their own limits. They can’t get a medal skating a safe routine perfectly because another skater will take the risk and succeed. They practice – they fall; they compete – they hope they won’t fall THIS time. They do fall and then get back up to get ready for the next competition. The best get the medals, the others have done their best – aka ‘winners’.

    Few math students can handle math contests (I’m writing one now). They aren’t used to falling. They can’t handle it. They expect math to be clean – follow the rules. With a safe routine, they do get by in class. In math class as in life we shield students from the falls. Without falls, growth is so hard. Those few who do train, fall, train, and fall again are so impressive – they become problem solvers and creative thinkers. As an extra, a few win medals.

  2. Rick says:

    Nice, Rick. And very important. What would we have to do to get kids to approach mathematics and other academic subjects as if they were going for gold.

  3. Shirley says:

    I think your question becomes moot if we allow children to “go for gold” in the areas they want to pursue. Not everyone wants to do math….and I would argue, not all should. We need basic arithmetic skills to get through everyday life, and some would argue that we only need our phones with their built in calculators.

    If me must continue with the archaic idea of “school”, then at least we need to recognize that in order to build a citizenship that is productive and energized we need to help children to figure out what they are good at, and go for gold in that direction.
    It’s a waste of time to apply effort to something you are not interested in. Instead of looking at a report card and seeing passes and fails, and then working like the devil to turn failures into passes, teachers and parents should look at the trends. Defocus on the things that are so called weakness, and focus on the interests and ease.. then “going for gold” is the natural next step.

  4. Rick says:

    Shirley, I agree with you when you define “going for the gold” as you do in the context of a traditional curriculum and report card.
    Rick triggered in me the idea that if I were teaching math (and he is a math teacher) I like the idea of creating the conditions in which all kids would become enthusiastic about mathematics, transcend any notions of native ability (which is as archaic as the “curriculum” and the “report card”) and strive to revel in the glories of mathematics (which might include mastering arithmetic). That is what I meant by going for the gold.

  5. Rick Armstrong says:

    Rick: ANS: Present math more as a discovery of patterns and as problems to solve. Patterns can lead to number sense and mental arithmetic. Then follow-up is critical “Now that we’ve found the pattern, let’s use it.” After discovery, internalization is crucial. An intentional spiral approach helps.

    Shirley: Provocative comments! Extreme case: A 3rd grader is only interested in hiking, swimming, spelunking, and rock climbing. Do we let her explore those passions for 10 years without any focus on reading, history, etc.? If her interests later require reading and math, it is a big hole to climb out of. I admired our daughter’s (5th-8th) experience in The College School (K-8) – a major component of their experiential education was to require students to use reading, writing, art, and math in conjunction with their outdoor experiences. With such extensions, I do agree with the spirit of “focus on their interests”.

    For adults who become numerate when young and now use calculators, their drop in skill level doesn’t really hurt them. But for children, “They will just use their calculators” is a dangerous myth that allows too many students to be innumerate. How bad? Two trig students who literally did not know there were any numbers between 0 and 1. A young adult who was upset that in explaining 0.25 her instructor expected her to know that there are 100 cents in a dollar. More specifically, 83+10; 3/2 is between 1 and 2; area vs. perimeter of a rectangle are all hard concepts. Numeracy is much broader and more important than ‘memorize your facts’. Worksheets and rules tend not to lead to numeracy.

  6. Rick says:

    Rick, Math teaching in a nutshell!!! That’s what comes from really knowing your business!. Thank you.
    I, too, share your vision that done properly all humans can be numerate.
    The College school in St.Louis: A great school!!! All teachers should go there for a professional development day.

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