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Appreciative Relationships Help Resolve Conflict
I witnessed a beautiful scene the other day that epitomizes the way many Japanese approach conflict and relationships. I share this story with you now, hoping it will help you better deal with conflict in your own life.
A rather old man who lives in my Tokyo neighborhood came shuffling along on his way to go shopping. He stopped and talked with a girl of around 5, who was playing by herself in the parking lot of my apartment complex. It was obvious by the animated nature of their conversation that the man and the girl knew each other well. After talking for a few minutes, the old man reached in his pocket and pulled out a candy bar which he offered to the girl. She bowed and accepted the candy with little hesitation. The old man smiled, bowed back to the girl, and continued on down the street.
The interaction between the two led me to understand the girl’s mom must have OK’ed receiving a gift from the man in the past. Otherwise the child would have likely said “No thank you” as Japanese people are usually quite hesitant to accept a gift, even from a good friend.
Just as the girl began to eagerly tear off the candy wrapper her older brother and his friend came along.
Upon seeing the candy, the brother quickly decided all three of them should share in the girl’s bounty, so he took the candy bar away from his sister and began to think out loud about how to split it up. He and his friend quickly started arguing over who should get what, as the girl stood there and began to cry. I was tempted to somehow intervene, but I thought it might not be wise to do so. Chances are a big foreigner like me might only scare the children, even though I had said hello to them many times in the past.
The noise of the arguing boys and the crying girl drew the mother’s attention, and she soon came out of her apartment to see what was going on. It didn’t take her but a second to size up the situation, and she took the candy bar from her son and gave it back to her daughter.
The mother gently but sternly scolded her son. She said, “Not only were you treating your sister badly, but you were teaching your friend bad manners as well.” The son bowed to his mother, offered his apologies, and then bowed and apologized to his sister as well. The other boy was quite embarrassed and stood there staring down at the ground.
The mother squatted down and drew her daughter to her side. She asked if everything was OK now, and the girl said “Yes.”
Next, the mother said, “Even though your brother has been quite naughty, it’s still better to share what you have with others, rather than keeping everything all to yourself.”
Still a bit teary eyed, the girl slowly nodded her head “yes” as she stood there with the candy bar in her hand. She asked her mom if she should give some candy to both her brother and his friend, and her mom said, “As an act of kindness it would be a very nice thing to do.”
The girl divided the candy equally between herself and the two boys, even as the boys once again apologized for their bad behavior.
Such is life in Japan!
To me it was a beautiful example of how to resolve conflict by building relationship.