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So Why Do We Fight Over Words?

First published by West County Gazzette November, 2005, Vesta Publishers.

Research suggests that body language may comprise most of our understanding of one another… So why do we fight over words?

When we hear something that we disagree with, we are disposed to reply in kind, with words. Words contain the obvious linear “train of thought,” considered reliable by most minds, and presto, we’re off in a battle of words. As a mediator however, I’ve had the experience of observing that word conflicts seldom convey the true nature of the underlying problem. Indeed, we appear to be “pre-disposed” to conflict with one another by underlying feelings and unmet needs.

Feelings and needs lie deeper in the body than the thinking, speaking mind. They form our moods and attitudes, which set the context for our thinking and speaking with words. The point is that they live in our bodies, often concealed beneath the literal manner of our minds. That’s why “body-language” reveals more reliable information than what we say or hear in someone’s speech.

But our minds prefer to follow the train of thought, so shifting gears, perhaps finding a different set of tracks, is not what most minds want, especially when under pressure. We often speak about conflicts and tensions in terms of bodily feelings. We are aware of someone’s aggressive stance or rigid posture. When pressed, we can feel “pinned down,” “cornered,” or as if our “hands are tied.”

So if the context of conflict (and perhaps deeper communication as well) lies to some degree within the body, let’s consider examining the body for understanding confrontations and bringing wisdom to their resolution. Verbal pressures come in a myriad of forms, and can trigger even greater varieties of responses. However, the dynamic of our responses to physical pressure are simple and few in number.

Our bodies appear pre-disposed, perhaps culturally, to three common responses to pressures; caving in, becoming rigid, and pushing back. Can you recognize these qualities in common responses to verbal pressures, as well? Ever push back with words? Or give in to an idea that wasn’t yours? Hear responses that won’t budge?

I teach blending with physical pressures in just three components, which apply in all situations. We learn to center and ground our attention, and an open extension from center to meet (or greet) the pressure, where inclusion and relationship can replace dominion or control. Centering enhances body-awareness. Grounding promotes breathing and relieves tension and anxiety. It also brings stability and power. Just getting comfortable under pressure enables listening, the first plateau of compassionate communication, and in itself, a gift to the source of pressure, and its recipient as well.

Tuning into our own bodies’ messages can transform our habitual responses, enabling us to connect at the level of underlying interests and basic needs. Aiki-greetings (ai-ki means blending-energy) is a fun, user friendly teaching I created for learning from the spirit of Aikido to access body wisdom under verbal pressures. It extends the accustomed handshake into the relative intimacy of wrists and forearms, and there, in playful curiosity, reveals the common pre-dispositions to responding to pressure that we all live with, knowingly or not. Accessing body wisdom reveals new options applying to arguments and disputes as well. It could take years to figure this out by arguing.

It is inappropriate to pre-think solutions to a real conflict. Identifying our predisposition allows alternatives to emerge from the context in a manner more timely and appropriate than predetermined strategies. Blending without losing our integrity is an attitude, not a technique. Practicing the attitude evokes a posture that is more likely to elicit an appropriate response.

So why do we fight over words? I don’t really know, but we are a very literal culture and we seek “agreement.” It might leave us feeling more “right,” perhaps more secure, or more in control. In truth, I can determine only my own direction, and stability (ground and center) can feel more reliable than words. I have learned that I can find words for those attitudes and feelings, even under pressure. And I can teach that to you.

One woman wore a dress to work for the first time because she was empowered “to show up with her whole self.” Another discovered her intuitive body ( and reliable intuitions) by learning to move from center. And a mom transformed a conflicted relationship with her son, and numerous couples found new perspectives on old tensions. This is particularly fun stuff to learn together with folks you know or work with, where family, social or business pressures require you to interact often under pressure. I’d like to help you think about how you might create a setting most useful for your interests and needs.


Jerry Green

Jerry A. Green graduated from University of California, Berkeley and received his J.D. from Boalt Law School. He defended holistic health practitioners in court and published and lectured on the health care contract. He specializes in medical and health care licensing and scope of practice matters, is a special consultant… MORE >

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