Choosing War or Peace

(A guest post by The Arbinger Institute)

Whether at work or at home, when I mistreat other people, I begin to see them in a way that justifies my mistreatment of them. This state of needing justification we have described in The Anatomy of Peace as “the box.” In the box we are cut off from the truth; we are cut off from others. In short, when we violate our own sense of how we ought to treat another person, we go to war with them—battling to main­tain our image of ourselves as right or justified. What does this war look like? When we are in the box, needing to be justified, we find ourselves blaming those we have mistreated. We may also find ourselves inflating their faults. For example, if I mistreat you and I need to feel justified, I will take whatever faults you have, and I will exaggerate them. I will make you seem worse than you are, because the worse you are, the more justified I am in how I am treating you.

My point of view in the box is, “I could do better if only other’s were different. I am doing the best I can in dealing with such difficult people.” In other words, my mistreatment of others compels me to make them my enemy. People won’t be able to talk to me very easily about this because I will be defending myself. Through it all, my focus will be on myself, what others are doing to me, what’s unfair about the situation, how I am being mistreated, and how others are at fault. Of course all of these thoughts and feelings are focused on me. I have lost my peace. I am at war.

Anatomy of peace

Is it any wonder wonder that conflicts continue without any end in sight?

Here’s what we are trying to suggest in our work at Arbinger, and it is what the characters in The Anatomy of Peace discover. If we think about who we are inside – and sometimes we talk about that in terms of our heart – there are really just two fundamental ways of engaging with others–two conditions of heart. One of them is a heart (like we have been talking about) that is “at war.” Whenever we violate our own sense of how we ought to treat others, we enter into war with them. We enter into a condition where we see them as untrustworthy and we have to defend ourselves. There is another condition that is possible and that condition is to be “at peace,” where we see other people as people like ourselves, flawed but trying and worthy of our concern. Our work begins by helping people notice these two fundamental ways of experiencing others. Just like the characters in The Anatomy of Peace, once we understand that most the wars we find ourselves waging, and the absence of peace we feel as a result is, ultimately, of our own making, then we can chose to end them.

When I am at war with other people, one way to think about that is that I see people as objects. I see them either as in my way, bothering me, or I might see people as vehicles that I can manipulate, people I can use. I may see them as objects in my life that are just irrelevant; they just are too insignificant to matter. Those are three ways that I might see people when I am at war with them. They are just objects in my world. But, when we are at peace, we don’t see people that way. We actually see them as real life people who are just as important, just as real, and just as relevant as we are. When we are feeling and seeing them that way, we are at peace with them.

There will always be occasions of disagreement, or seeing things differently. It’s one thing to disagree with you if I am seeing you as a per­son who happens to hold a different opinion. But let’s suppose that I don’t see you as the person who happens to hold a different opinion. I see you as an object who is being obstinate, who is troubled, who is always like this and that I am at war with. How likely is it that you and I are going to resolve that disagreement if I am seeing you that way? There will always be differences, but if we are fundamentally at peace with one another, we can resolve those.

This is the message of The Anatomy of Peace. There is a way to end war and choose peace, at home, at work, and in the world.

The Arbinger Institute is the organization-author of the bestsellers Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace.

To learn more about the new expanded second edition of The Anatomy of Peace, please visit


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