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Are Humor and Compassion the Keys to Conflict Resolution?

Dave Chappelle’s SNL Monologue deserves a strong wave of positive attention, despite its obvious sticking points. He pushes the acceptable boundaries of our egos, for sure, but at the same time he challenges our thoughts and beliefs at the soul level, because every single word has been steeped in truth. This is evidenced by the fact that he is able to slip in that word (we all know the one), with a style that has been checked, honed and crafted for 35 years. He invites us to abandon the question of why it is okay to say it ‘here and not there’, as we simply become aware that this is a true fact, period. The perspective Dave unwinds for us has been specifically designed to pierce through the many illusions that have become our known reality, and shake us from the mental comforts of our deep, abiding ignorance.

He does it with such a skilled degree of emotional intelligence and thoughtfulness, that it’s easy to miss the compassion alongside his strong punch lines. The amplified power of their combined context can literally take our breath away. His next steps could lead to potential conflict, but he heads it off with mastery. His spot-on timing always provides the necessary space for our breathing to catch up, allowing our minds to actually connect to the true intention of his message. At the root, he asks us each to take a broader look at our concept of reality–frequently and with increasing vigor.

Speaking from a point of view that has become structurally weary of the fickle audience that he knows lurks behind some unforeseen corner, somewhere, he aims to connect us to the same base energy that produced our current cancel culture. This is the very same base energy he works tirelessly to vibrate against, favoring a more collective tone as a rule. His poignant take on the hypocrisy of humans is backed by an earnest, unspoken plea that we might actually take up the cause of doing better as a human race. Until that happens, I don’t see a slow down in his joyful lobbing of well-timed jabs, followed by perfect pauses that lead us to ponder the deeper meaning behind the joke he just told. And the next one…

I use this controversial example because it demonstrates a truth about the nature of Conflict. This is the exact type of issue that trips us up, and causes us to physically hold our breath, unable to move forward with ease. Sensationally, we tend to become ‘charged’ no matter where our opinion falls on the subject, because the word itself carries so much energy that it cannot be trusted to those whose intentions and understanding of the word are not only crystal clear, but somehow earned.

The universal vetting process is ever-present, subtle and often unnoticed, resonating directly from our souls within. The problem lies in our frequent inability to hear our distant soul voice, therefore missing its sound advice. If we aren’t able to come from that type of collective space, we don’t even get to step up to the plate on the matter. Essentially, we are blocking our own ability to be in the know, only we can’t see it. As those feelings stir around, they can create further conflict if given any fuel, even though it all stems from some form of ‘not knowing’, be it willful or organic.

When this happens, we hold our breath just long enough to allow our natural critic to slip in and begin offering our own personal judgment in places it has no real understanding of the business at hand. Look at the roots of our societal conflicts for very long, and we will find ourselves pointing fingers in nearly every direction, unaware that they all eventually connect in some way. When we can’t accept (or outright reject) the underlying framework of our own interconnectedness, it’s possible that we will clamor for our own ‘say’, even when it’s clear to the rest of the room that we haven’t been granted a seat at the table. Our ability to listen gets compromised and unless we take steps to hear things we don’t agree with, we may end up more at odds than we were when we started – without any understanding of why or how it happened. Our soulful listening skills are being called upon regularly, but we often ignore them in favor of our ego’s desire to state our opinion.

The reasons for how we arrived where we are are as complex as we are, but it’s easy to get caught up in blaming our own chosen ‘enemies’ for the conditions we don’t support. Our individual, intellectual concept of how to effectively approach the state of the human condition is essentially blocked by our thoughts and ideas about whose fault it is and where the responsibilities lie in giving each of us a chance to live a life where our basic needs are met. Many of us don’t even believe that to be essential, fully illustrating how disparate our ideas about what is ‘right’ really are. As Dave Chappelle noted, the current climate of increasingly unaffordable food and gas prices has been the ongoing norm for a lot of our population, with little concern for their regard from the rest of us. I’m sure his comments fell on a lot of deaf ears, but my soul was listening and I’m sensitive to the cause, meaning it is something I will continue to think about, especially in the Ideal Playground.

Politically, we’re in the middle of a potential shift that has all the pundits scratching their heads. As Chappelle reminded us Saturday night, Trump claimed in his very first debate that he knows our system is rigged “because he uses it”, and with the next breath he challenged the notion that anything would ever be done to “fix it”, because the donors in both parties enjoy the same loopholes he does, and won’t dismantle them. Democrats shook their heads in disagreement and Republicans rallied around a type of leader they had never seen – what Dave Chappelle referred to as “an honest liar”. As I recalled the moment he described, my feelings landed where they did that night and I was surprised by how much of it I had forgotten, even though I was as struck as he was by the remarks.

As Democrats cried foul and pointed out lies, Republicans said “so what?” For many of them, the veil of illusion was shattered on that stage, fracturing the last remaining threads of common truth, and replacing them with a deluge of alternative facts that made their way into each individual belief system, creating more conflict than ever. Trust in the system is waning, and our investments in the future seem more like a gamble than a sure thing. The rights we have come to expect can be taken from us, and the world can shift on a dime. Remember when we weren’t watching Russia destroy every part of Ukraine that they could reach? Remember when we couldn't believe that the world at large would let that happen?

As we look toward the next Presidential election and see many of the same aging candidates we’ve been evaluating for some time, the internal conflict is palpable--on all sides. There are arguments to be made about the state of democracy as a whole, as the structure that supports it stands in obvious disrepair, without a clear path for resolution. We can’t even agree on the details of our history, or how certain events beget others. One of the first games we are taught, Connect the Dots, used to feel so complete when it revealed its hidden picture. Now? The dots are too many and we can’t even fully trust that they are real dots.

If it were up to me? I’d surround myself with comedians and develop the most compassionate ways to gather all of the problems for consideration. I don’t have the power (yet) to affect the kind of change we need to make sure everyone can eat, but my thoughts land there now more than ever as we make choices about who matters in this world, and why. Billy Joel’s old lyric about Rock-n-Roll – “all you need are looks and a whole lot of money” has become an apparent mantra for success in the modern world as social media helps shape the way we see it, further complicating our internal, as well as our external conflicts.

We can’t stop conflict from happening, and I don’t think we’d want to. It is the catalyst that moves us to action in big and small ways. It reminds us to pay attention to what is happening around us. It helps us remember that we are all connected–that what hurts some of us will eventually affect all of us in some fashion. Conflict is good. Conflict resolution is valued. A world without conflict is Ideal. Understanding how to recognize conflict within our own lives, deal with the emotions that accompany it, and being ready to support the next one is not the only path, but with large amounts of humor, love and compassion, it keeps us moving. Thanks, Dave.

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