Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I was trying desperately to catch up my continuing ed credits this weekend, and came across an entire month of articles devoted to ethics. Contributions were written by bioethicists, people serving on hospital ethics committees, and even some ethics policy-writers. It was really interesting stuff, because I haven't had to think about some of these issues in a while. The most interesting one for me was written by George Blackwell, PsyD, and it was about how to de-escalate conflict in tense situations. The author was coming from a perspective of helping a hospital team agree on a solution to an ethical dilemma, but the concept he explained seems pretty universally helpful. I tried to Google this and see where it originally came from, but had no luck. I will simply say I did not come up with this beautiful idea, and give thanks and credit to the person who did!

The concept is the ARCH principle. It stands for "Acceptance, Respect, Curiosity and Honesty." It begins with "accepting every person where they are, as they are." We respect a person's right to their own opinion, and show curiosity about how they came to it. Then we open an honest discussion that still follows the other principles. I think it's pretty clear how this could be useful in daily interactions. There are as many different opinions as there are people in the world, eventually we will come up against someone with whom we disagree. My usual tactic is to allow them to speak, maybe make a comment or two, and let the discussion drop because I don't like conflict. Later I'm left feeling empty because I didn't speak my mind. I have seen other tactics that work even less well, where someone starts shouting and calling names to show their disagreement. Neither of these methods results in a fruitful meeting of the minds, and they both leave someone feeling bad.

If we follow these principles, however, we can have a discussion and not end up angry or upset, hopefully. I accept that another person has a different background than I do, and have come by their beliefs in a different way. Right now, we disagree. I respect that they have an opinion, perhaps even a strong one, and they are entitled to it. I show curiosity by asking questions about how they came to this conclusion, trying to learn more about them and their belief-system to be more informed. This in turn shows them I'm interested, and willing to listen. We can discuss things calmly because everyone feels safe in this kind of environment. When we come to points of disagreement, I can honestly say that I understand they have a different opinion, I respect that, but then explain my views, without using language that is harmful. In an ideal situation, they would afford the same ARCH principles toward me. We may never agree on everything, but we will both have learned more about each other, and about another point of view. That kind of knowledge allows me to interact with others in a more intelligent way in the future, too.

I think this principle correlates really well with yogic philosophy. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the yamas are the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga. They describe the ways we should relate to others in the world. The first 2 of the 5 yamas are ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truthfulness). The usual "rule of thumb" is that ahimsa, or non-violence, trumps all the others. So, if our honest truth is hurtful, we do not speak it. The ARCH principle gives a simple and modern perspective on these ancient concepts that really speaks to me. We have multiple interactions with people every day, from our family members to our co-workers to the people in line at the grocery store. Reminding ourselves to accept each one of them where they are is a great way to begin any conversation. That alone sets a positive tone for the rest of the interaction, even if there is no disagreement.

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