Back in college, I was into photography as a hobby. I still have the trusty Nikon FM I purchased when I was 16 and my high school boyfriend had his own darkroom. Yes, yes, much developed there…I’ve heard the joke a hundred times.
Every few weeks I’d rise early on a Sunday morning, rush through breakfast at one of Middlebury’s dining halls, and go into the student darkroom to develop the black and white photos I’d shot in the past month. I usually had the darkroom entirely to myself on Sundays. I’d come out a few hours later, with images dancing in my head.
I’d find dusk approaching. It wasn’t, as it turned out repeatedly, a few hours later. It was eight or ten hours later. I had been so focused on photographs, so swept up in them and the story they told, that I’d lost track of time. I hadn’t even noticed hunger.
I was mentally transported back to that darkroom as I read the foreword to a new book by my New Hampshire colleague, Judy Ringer. What would happen if we approached our difficult conversations with the same focused, dedicated concentration we reserve for activities we really care about? What would happen if that kind of time-stopping flow could take place during conflict?
In Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict (affiliate link), Judy sets about helping us understand how to do just that. And she uses concepts and examples from her practice of Aikido to help us see that we can create more connection and minimize separation during conflict. It’s a compelling read for anyone who wants to get better at engaging the important conversations or get over the fear of stepping into the muck and messiness of them.
What attracts me most to Judy’s book is that it’s not prescriptive and it doesn’t focus on fixing the other person. Instead, it focuses on altering the way you think about conflict so that you’re better able to access the good skills you already have when you need them most. That’s a far better approach than offering a recipe that can’t possibly work in all situations.
Unlikely Teachers is filled with material that matches my philosophy and approach (except for the Aikido part), so naturally I’m drawn to it. I think you will be, too. I feel gratitude to Judy for writing a book such as this.
Who are the unlikely teachers in your life?