Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict - The Arbinger Institute

Summary:  What if conflicts at home, conflicts at work, and conflicts in the world stem from the same root cause? 

What if we systematically misunderstand that cause?

And what if, as a result, we systematically perpetuate the very problems we think we are trying to solve?  

Every day.  

From the authors of the international bestseller Leadership and Self-Deception comes a groundbreaking work that instills hope and inspires reconciliation.  Through a moving story of parents who are struggling with their children and with problems that have come to consume their lives, we learn from once-bitter enemies the way to find peace whenever war is upon us. (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  The Anatomy of  Peace is the prequel to a book I reviewed (and loved) back in 2018 called, Leadership and Self-Deception. Both books are authored by the Arbinger Institute, which according to the back of the book, is "an international training, consulting, and coaching firm that specializes in conflict resolution and peace building -- whether in families, in organizations, or between communities or nations." Although the two books don’t have to be read in order, The Anatomy of Peace is a kind of ‘prequel’ to Leadership and Self-Deception. Both books present many of the same ideas, but in slightly different ways with different applications.

It isn’t always easy to read books on conflict resolution. Many of them read like textbooks and, well,  if I wanted to read textbooks I’d go back to college.  Thankfully, The Anatomy of Peace belies its textbook appearance and teaches an important strategy for conflict resolution using a fictionalized story.  It centers around a man named Lou who is struggling with conflict in his business and family life.  When he and his wife check their son into a special rehab facility, they are asked to stay for a meeting with its founders, Yusuf and Avi, two men who have resolved their own personal conflicts and hope to impart the lessons they learned to others.  Lou stays and listens to what the men have to say. After each concept they teach, review, and provide diagrams that clarify and distill their message down to its most salient points – points that have the potential to change Lou and his family forever.

The Anatomy of Peace encourages readers to look inward and examine their own behavior and motivations as they interact with others, positing that a ‘heart of peace’ is the secret to mitigating even the deepest conflict.  Arbinger suggests that, “We choose to see others either as people like ourselves or as objects. They either count like we do or they don't. In the former case, since we regard them as we regard ourselves, we say our hearts are at peace towards them. In the latter case, since we systematically view them as inferior, we say our hearts are at war.”  This theory invites us to consider how we view others and raises some interesting questions. Do we see them as people with their own thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires?  Or do we see them as horrible demons, objects we have to deal with, problems we have to solve, or enemies to vanquish?  How we see someone might not seem that important,but, for good or ill, these subtle shifts in our own perspective can affect how we approach a problem and even make all the difference in outcome.  This book not only teaches why a heart of peace helps resolve conflict, but it also teaches how we can recognize the state of our heart and actively, intentionally change it.

If I could offer one criticism of the book, it would be that the conversational aspects of the story didn’t always feel organic.  Quite frankly, everyone was a bit too communicative, helpful, and organized to be realistic, but since the story is only meant to teach a concept and not an actual record of events, I can let it slide!  That having been said, The Anatomy of Peace is chock full of amazing (occasionally inorganic) quotes.  Here are some of my favorites: 
Seeing an equal person as an inferior object is an act of violence.
The outward wars around us started because of an inward war that went unnoticed: someone started seeing others as objects, and others used that as justification for doing the same.  This is the germ, and germination, of war. When we're carrying this germ, we're just wars waiting to happen.   
Every human face includes all others.  This means I spite my own face with every nose I desire to cut off.  We separate from each other at our own peril.  
Generally speaking, we respond to other's way of being toward us rather than to their behavior.  Which is to say that our children respond more to how we're regarding them than they do to our particular words or actions.  We can treat our children fairly, for example, but if our hearts are warring toward them while we're doing it, they won't think they're being treated fairly at all.  In fact, they'll respond to us as if they weren't being treated fairly.  
When I see others as objects, I dwell on the injustices I have suffered in order to justify myself, keeping my mistreatment and suffering alive within me.  When I see others as people, on the other hand, then I free myself from the need for justification.  I therefore free myself from the need to focus unduly on the worst that has been done to me.  I am free to leave the worst behind me, and to not see only the bad but the mixed and good in others as well.
The Arbinger approach to conflict resolution has been incredibly helpful in my personal life, church life, and basic everyday interactions.  Not only do I love the book, but it is probably the most spiritually-applicable secular book I have ever read.  While the wording and concepts are perfectly acceptable for a secular learning environment and application in the business world, they also coincided with my own religious beliefs about how we should treat or view others.  Aside from the overall message, my favorite part of this book is how the subtitle gained deeper significance as I read.  Initially, I assumed that the words Resolving the Heart of Conflict meant uncovering and resolving the root of the problem – the why of the conflict.  Eventually, I realized that the heart of conflict was more personal.  It was about the how of my heart -- how I could find peace in my own conflicted heart and how I could use that newly transformed heart to invite and encourage the same process in others.  I recommend this book to pretty much anyone who has to deal with conflict in their lives.  So.  Everyone. 

My Rating:  5 Stars. 

For the Sensitive Reader:  One of the characters is initially a jerk and says the D word a handful of times.

 For more information about the Arbinger Institute, please visit 

1 comment:

Dad said...

I found this book and Leadership and Self-Deception life changing even at my age. I wish I had read them earlier in my life. I recommend two additional books. First, ‘The Outward Mindset’ by the Arbinger Institute. This book is great if you work with groups of people. The second book is ‘The Seven Paths - Changing One’s Way of Walking in the World’. Great story, good for troubled youth to help them understand that it is not ‘I’ but that it is ‘We’. Mindy’s Dad


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