When we view others with hostility, we’re more likely to try to get our needs met at their expense. Transforming our hostility into compassion can shift our approach to conflict, allowing us to respond in ways that are more beneficial for everyone involved. (By hostility, I mean those strategies, impulses and habits that tend to arise within us when we view others as bad, wrong, or deserving of punishment.)
Notice Your Hostility
The first step is to notice our own hostile feelings, impulses, and habits. What does hostility look like? It could include feelings such as distaste, irritation, anger, resentment, or fear, with thoughts about the wrongness or badness of someone else. We see the other person as a destructive force to be controlled. We see them as separate from ourselves—a separate, external, threatening force. Often we are focused on a limited resource, and we perceive the other person as competing with us to obtain that resource. We may find ourselves secretly or openly rejoicing at news of the other person’s misfortune.
When we see others as forces to be controlled (rather than as human beings), we are more likely to try to meet our needs at their expense. We may feel justified in this by our thoughts of the other as wrong, bad, and deserving of punishment. To the extent that we consider ourselves victims of the other’s actions, we are likely to react with righteousness. When we have this kind of thinking, our reactions may range from subtle acting out (for instance, passive-aggressively avoiding eye contact), to all-out war with other people, groups, or nations.
Cultivate Empathy and Self-Connection
Noticing we are in an hostile state of mind is the first step, but the actual transformative process involves empathy and self-connection. Our empathy does not have to involve the other’s participation. It’s all about our openness to putting ourselves in their shoes and sensing their experience—including what they are feeling and the needs that are stimulating those feelings. What’s actually going on for them? Can we appreciate the needs behind their behavior (even when we don’t like the behavior itself)?
Self-connection is also important—for centering ourselves and for preparing to seek a beneficial response. We may have been competing with the other person for certain resources; if so, our self-connection process may involve looking at any limiting beliefs we may be holding about the scarcity of those resources. We might also look at our own attachment to getting our needs met through strategies that put us in competition with the other person. What needs are we trying to meet? Can we find other ways of getting those needs met?
Letting go of our view of the other person as bad and wrong may raise a possibility that may feel scary and difficult to face: in our righteousness, we may have acted in ways that we regret. Can we forgive ourselves for these things, and can we forgive the other person for actions and reactions that may not have been skillful?
Respond to the Situation
Releasing our hostility opens the possibility of responding to the situation in a more beneficial way. Any response is possible—we may choose to increase or decrease our involvement with the other. If we choose to increase our involvement, we might initiate an honest conversation with the other person. Or, we may choose to reduce our involvement, choosing other strategies for meeting our needs. We may choose to take steps to protect ourselves—not out of hostility or a desire to punish, but with compassion for both ourselves and the other person. (Compassion is not incompatible with discernment and clarity about our own boundaries.)
Sometimes I may choose a strategy of reducing or ending my involvement with another, when I don’t see that involvement as beneficial. But I still want to remain connected with them, in the sense of having a compassionate openness to their humanity. I want to continue to value their needs, whether or not I am involved with them or actively communicating with them.