Between social media and news, we’re bombarded with conflict. In fact, negative emotions are at record levels across the globe. Interpersonal tension is inescapable. It’s stressful. Interactions with perfect strangers can have us walking on eggshells. We’ve all seen how one misstep can set off a firestorm of public shaming. I’m not talking about political correctness. I’m referring to basic respect. Three octogenarian strangers in a waiting room agreed, and shared some age-old lessons for fostering respect in our polarized world.
Our world grieves the loss of Senator John McCain, an extraordinary American war hero and political maverick. Regardless of whether our political convictions aligned with his, most agree Senator McCain leaves a legacy of courage, perseverance, civility and service. He reminded us of radical ideals binding US citizens, "Despite our differences, much more unites us than divides us. We are fellow Americans, and that's an association that means more to me than any other." In a chance encounter, he revealed his humble character to me. From that fortuitous meeting, I gleaned a transformative lesson.
Several years ago I had a conversation with a mediator colleague about honesty. We agreed that, despite media sensation and police warnings, people usually do the right thing. Deceit takes far more energy than honesty. I’ve been around the world and find most people do not choose to live with conflict, mistrust and deceit. Humans have an innate desire for peace. Truthfulness preserves harmony. So, why do we assume the worst in people?