[Coaching] On Being Remotely Human #5: Conflict, Trampolines, Einstein & Negotiation?

By Werner Schmidt

12 April 2020

Text and graphic design by Werner Schmidt  | Photos by Flavius Les on Unsplash, Hannes Richter on Unsplash and https://eportfolios.capilanou.ca/  | Soundtrack, Autumn Leaves (arr.) by John Smit from SoundSphere Productions

In this article, Turn your boardroom and kitchen table into trampolines with perfect tension, metaphorically speaking. Accept the tension, and even conflict, in every moment, and reap the rewards of commitment to constructive conversation.

Lockdown: a laboratory for conflict studies and trampoline creativity

One house, four individuals, two dogs. 9 neighbouring families and individuals within earshot, of which 5 within eyeshot (is ‘eyeshot’ a word? Makes me think of ‘I Shot The Sheriff’). Two weeks of COVID-19 lockdown done and dusted, approaching what was to be the last week of a 3-week marathon, which has now become the middle of an extended 5-week ultra-marathon in South Africa, with more extensions possible, who knows?

This week, over and above the normal daily tensions between the six of us and what we each wanted to do, from moment to moment, my son cut beautiful patterns from the family’s trampoline with his mother’s Wilkinson Sword scissors.
Lamaze breathing was employed, and not for the first time since his birth. We discovered that he truly wanted to make something beautiful, from his 8 year-old artist’s heart. This got me thinking about trampolines, conflict and Albert Einstein.

Why Albert Einstein?

Well, trampolines, of course! Einstein published his famous General Theory of Relativity “ … in 1915. In it, he determined that massive objects cause a distortion in space-time, which is felt as gravity.” [Space.com] Much like a bowling ball in the middle of a trampoline – see the red centre of this article’s featured image, which shows Planet Earth as a ball on the ‘trampoline-fabric’ of space-time.

To me, Einstein represented a good example on the handling of differences of opinion and even potential conflicts. Perhaps because he employed the humane art of writing in communicating to a number of thinkers, scientists, spiritual leaders, royals and civilians of his day, including children. I saw a picture, once, of an adult Einstein on a trampoline, with a friend or two, which made me wonder about the influence of the trampoline on his theory, which took ten years to formulate. I couldn’t find the particular picture, relegating this detail to the ‘Anecdotes’ file. Many children love jumping on trampolines, that’s a fact, however. Scientifically speaking, some love trampolines so much that they cut beautiful shapes from the fabric of garden space-time …

Back to the tension: is conflict essential?

The incredible diversity of individuals on the planet. Individuals grouped in countries, provinces, towns, workplaces, neighbourhoods, families, friendships and so forth. Differences of opinion on every decision, at every level – what to do and how to do it? – from intercountry to my inner conflict about what to wear today (how long can one lockdown T-shirt last?). The continuous tension between our creative and critical faculties. Conflict between our bodies and gravity when we get up in the morning (or afternoon, during lockdown). Tension between the left and right sides of our bodies when we move. Life happens, nature happens, things move really quickly, even when we’re attempting to sit still. Our blood flows at between 4 to 7 kilometers per hour, on average. The Earth spins at around 1 600 km/h, slingshots around the Sun at +/- 107 000 km/h, and the Solar System hurtles around the Milky Way at a cool 828 000 km/h, give or take. The Milky Way glides calmly through space at 2.1 million km/h.

What am I trying to say here?

Firstly, enjoy sitting relatively still, as Einstein would point out to us.

Secondly, accept conflict, tension and the need for negotiation in every moment!

Individually. Collectively. There is no moment without tension, conflict. No decision without negotiation. Even the stages of human development – from unconsciously incompetent to unconsciously competent in every cycle – throughout our lives, bring inner and external conflict between the known (security, comfort) and the unknown (challenge, adventure, novelty) … read/listen/watch the story of the Half-Girl … humans perpetually move through this cycle of feeling half, becoming whole, whether we are aware of it or not. Learning to walk, talk, run, swim, read, write, calculate, love, sing, perform, rest, engage in constructive conversation etcetera.

3 reasons to commit to making your boardroom or kitchen table a trampoline at perfect tension

What can a trampoline teach us about conflict, tension, differences of opinion, negotiation?

  1. If a trampoline experiences too much tension, it tears, destroying the potential for fun, negotiation, creative debate, etcetera
  2. If a trampoline experiences too little tension, it goes limp, becomes boring, no fun with everyone just standing on the ground, looking at each other
  3. If a trampoline operates at the perfect tension, it can carry significant weight, like children having a rocket-boots good time, adults maintaining perfect tension through inevitable disagreements or the development of heavy scientific theories, like the Theory of General Relativity.

While accepting and maintaining perfect tension, we can commit to:

  • Developing new ideas.
  • Formulating new challenges.
  • Discussing old problems.
  • Learning from people, each of whom is very different from you. At work. At home. Everywhere.

Try out the acceptance of constructive tension and commitment to negotiated outcomes …

… and see what happens? May your success gradually go boing! And may we #GrowInGratitude

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