Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Book Review: The Anatomy Of Peace

This book is changing my life.

Actually, it's a group of three books.

One is Bonds That Make Us Free, which I reviewed earlier in a review I still think needs updated.

The second is Leadership and Self Deception. Leadership and Self Deception is a business book. The Arbinger Institute originally did business consulting, teaching certain principles to businesses about interpersonal relationships and leadership. But as time went on, the implications of their philosophies for families and other groups became obvious, and that led to the writing of the third book.

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict is in some ways the perfect blend of the other two books.

Bonds That Make Us Free is written by a philosopher. It's sophisticated and heavy. It's my favorite of the three, especially because it includes a lot of case studies and real stories, but I realize it's not for everyone.

Leadership and Self Deception, on the other hand, is extremely simply written. Some people see it as being repetitive to the point of frustration, but I've found it to be the perfect book to give to people who've never read a leadership book before.

Sitting right in the middle is The Anatomy of Peace. It's written in the simpler style of Leadership, but it is a little more sophisticated in its approach to the material.

So what is it that all these books are teaching?

It's hard to sum up (hence why I've never been happy with my Bonds review), but I'll do my best.

A lot of the pain that we experience in our life, the frustrations that we have, even when those frustrations seem to come from other people, is really about us.

It's about the division that exists between who we feel like we're supposed to be, and who we really are. The feelings that we create in ourselves when we don't do things we feel like we should.

Let me use the classic example from the books: A father, lying in bed. He hears the baby crying in the next room. He feels like he should get up and help with the baby.

But he doesn't want to.

So he starts thinking about all the reasons why his wife should do it. About the meeting he has the next day. About how he's the one who got up with the baby the night before. About how she got to get a nap in after he got home.

So he starts creating intellectual justifications for not getting up.

But it doesn't stop there. As he thinks about all the reasons why his wife should get up instead of him, he doesn't just think it, he starts to feel it. He might get frustrated that she doesn't understand all these things, or even angry with her for not thinking of his situation.

In other words, he starts creating emotional justifications for not getting up.

And from there, he'll start painting pictures of himself and his wife in his mind. It could be that he sees himself as the good dad who works hard (didn't he watch the baby earlier so his wife could nap?) and his wife as the lazy, bad mom (doesn't she hear the baby?), or he might portray himself as the victim and her as his oppressor (is she going to to make me do this again?).

Now, he's even making moral justifications for what he wants to do.

The important part is that all of his feelings--his frustration, his anger, his desire to make someone else evil and himself good or a victim--none of that started until he started trying to create reasons to justify what he was going to do. He never would have felt any of that if he hadn't felt the need to justify himself.

But it goes on from there. Because at this point, no matter what he does, his behavior is going to affect his wife.

Chances are, he's not going to get up. He's going to wake his wife up, and make her get up and get the baby.

And he's going to do it in such a way that his attitude shows. He might make overtures of trying to be sweet about it, but the general vibe is going to be a defensive one, trying to make her see why it makes more sense for her to do it.

But the fact is, at this point, he could even get up and help with the baby, and it would do the same thing. He's still going to do it in such a way that his attitude shows. He's going to make some comment or sigh in a certain way or just do something so she understands the injustice of what he's doing.

And even though the reason he'd let his attitude show would be so she'd either forgive him or appreciate him, the actual result would be the opposite.

His defensiveness as he made her get up would come across, to her, like an accusation. At best a mild accusation, but she'd be far more likely to think about what his line of thinking said about her than about what it said about him.

Same thing if he got up--his attempts to make her see how hard it was would be far more likely to make her feel he resents her than make her feel he loves her. Rather than feeling gratitude, she's going to begin to feel defensive feelings about herself similar to the ones the husband felt as he tried to justify not getting up. She's going to start thinking of all the ways that she's good, and he's bad, or that he's an oppressor and she's a victim.

Her defensiveness, as she begins to show it, would then be interpreted aggressively by her husband, who would react again--and so the cycle goes, and so the relationship degenerates. Both people think they're only acting in their own defense, but in reality both attacking the other with accusations they feel are somehow necessary for their own defense.

Who's right? Both of them, sort of. And neither of them, sort of.

In reality, neither of them is either the hero or the monster that they feel the need to paint each other as. They're both fallible people with strengths and weaknesses.

But it is no more necessary that the wife be a monster in order for the husband to be a "good guy" than the husband has to be negligent in order for the mother to be loving.

In other words, sometimes the two biggest enemies to our happiness are justification and blame.

But that's a tough way to convince you to read this book. Because if you think about it, the people who need this book the most would be the people who absolutely didn't think they needed it from reading that description.

"Oh, I don't have a problem with justification," they would say. But they could only believe that if they were so heavy into self-justifying that their problem had become invisible to them.

Or they might say, "I have a bit of a problem with self-justification, but my real problem is in ______, and self-justification doesn't have anything to do with that."

The blank might be a relationship with a co-worker, or self-esteem issues, or marriage, or money issues, or some other thing.

But all of those things are deeply rooted in self-deception.

Sometimes, in the interest of justifying ourselves, we allow ourselves to hold on to anger or depression or frustration or heartache that we don't need, because we think we need it to justify ourselves.

A woman might not be able to let go of anger towards her ex husband, because she thinks she needs her anger to justify leaving someone alone who was in as much trouble with drugs as he was.

A man might hold on to depression, because he needs to believe that his life is hard to justify why he's never been able to do better for himself.

As crazy as it sounds, sometimes we do things that go against things we want, because what we want more is to feel like we're okay, right now. We want to believe (or want other people to believe) we're good or smart or deserve something or even just believe that we're really, really struggling.

This book is about the way this can affect our relationships. It's about conflict--whether the conflict is with a co-worker, or with a family member. It compares these with the conflicts between religions, between nations, between races.

It's told in the story of two men, one Jewish and one Muslim, who come together to form a camp for troubled teens. The viewpoint character is a dad whose son has had to come to the camp following a drug arrest, and the ideas are introduced to us as the Father is introduced to them. As they talk about conflicts in the world and in the homes of the parents, the ideas are taught, with the parents voicing the questions the reader might have.

It's a great book--I said Bonds was my favorite; Anatomy of Peace is my wife's.

If you're just going to read one of these books, make it this one.

And I can't say enough--read one of these books.

1 comment:

decotta said...

Just came across your blog after recently getting this 3-in-1 gift package as a present to newly wed friends when I came across this blog: arbingersea@blogspot.com

Guess what hey have been talking about it ever since to me pestering me to read it myself...

Very cool for a present I haven't read yet, but just curious to see why they think its so good!

Cheers!