The Ghosts of Other Stories

Every time an unpleasant event happens we try to make sense of it. How do we do that? By focusing on a person/race/group/country to blame, an original cause that led to the effect of the unpleasant event. This pattern works the same way in a marital fight, in interracial violence, in almost all forms of conflict from individual to international. How much suffering and damage does our search for a scapegoat add to the conflict and help to keep it alive forever after…
There are no stories in a riot, only ghosts of other stories,” says a voice over in a film about the racial riots in England.
Let us take a most common example of a conflict: a marital fight. I can basically think of no fight that is only about the thing it claims to be. The ghosts of past resentments, little disappointments, previous unsolved conflicts, personal anxieties, identity pains, etc., whisper in an incomprehensible voice covered by our loud matches of the blaming game. Our mind tries to simplify all the complex web spun by those ghosts by pointing a finger: “It is your fault.” The irony is that a pointed finger does not solve any conflict but it invites the other finger to point as well: “No, it is YOUR fault.” Let us unpack the ghosts a little bit: a conflict between 2 people is produced through the unsuccessful interaction of two people, both coming to that interaction with their own inner worlds. Person 1 is a whole world in itself in interaction with person number 2, another whole world in itself.
Our pasts speak through us: our parents, our education, our traumatic experiences, our gender, racial or national identity.
Our imagined future also speaks through us: our desires, our needs, our expectations about our lives and the world around us.
A conflict happens when there is a rupture in the connection of the two worlds, a failure to communicate and listen to the other. And boy, do we have great skills at solving it!!! “You started it.” “No, YOU started it.” “You should be the one punished.” “No, YOU should be the responsible one.” This way we make sure we will both be punished through other future conflicts. The walls we build through blaming will isolate us further and deepen the conflict.
Making sense should not be an act of reduction but one of expansion: I need to understand your world, you need to understand my world and we both need to understand the interaction between these two worlds. When we give a voice to the ghosts and offer them a place at the discussion table they will stop haunting us.

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