Ombud's corner: Zen and conflict resolution

“In order to reduce conflict in our lives we must first address our inner battles. To stop our reactive behavior, we need to make peace with ourselves. This is where conflict resolution truly begins.”*


Most of the people coming to the Ombuds sincerely believe that the conflict they are in is due to the other party. They do not see that they play a key role in creating the external circumstances which lead to such a conflict. Thus, paying attention early on to your emotions and your body language, as well as recording your thoughts (positive and negative), can be very interesting. In other words, observe yourself. A close, intuitive and clear understanding of who we are will help us to avoid projecting our own feelings onto others or feeling too soon as though we may be under attack. In such positive circumstances, we can then face conflicts in an open way, instead of reacting with fight or flight. Each conflict can give us an opportunity to gain better knowledge of ourselves.

There is a zen aphorism related to this: a monk was observing two crows which were fighting over a little piece of food. He then asked his master: “Why are these crows really fighting?” And his master answered him: “It is because of you.” Without going quite that far, most of the time conflicts start within ourselves and we unfortunately do not perceive this.

The other point is related to our ability to let a bit things go. To reach a win-win solution, a conflict will require the various parties to abandon their position and their ego, and to be open to a resolution which will equally favors both parties. Anyone with a clear understanding of themselves would not be scared or offended to dump ballast, as they would not be concerned with losing face. Their confidence would be way beyond such childish considerations.

One night, the zen poet and master Ryokan was sleeping in his hut made of branches. A thief broke in while he slept, stealing everything including his blanket. When Ryokan woke up cold that night he wrote this haiku: “The thief has forgotten only one thing: the moon at the window.” Let us promote a culture of peace: a state of mind which values humour and, from time to time, an easy going nature.


Plagiarizing Confucius, we may say: “In order to make all of CERN into a respectful workplace, we must first create respectful workplace environments in all its groups. To transform all the groups this way, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right and approach deeply, intimately and in a transparent way the knowledge of ourselves.” So, in conflict resolution, let us start with ourselves for a change; it will ease a lot misunderstandings, conflicts and even open disputes! Why not try a zen attitude?

* G.Stanbridge, in the foreword of the book “The Art of Conflict or How to Stay Zen.” By Brigitte I.Kehrer, Janus Publishing Company, London, England, ISBN 978-1-85756-735-9.

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by Vincent Vuillemin