Finding Happiness

by Janet M. Powers

Last Sunday morning, I happened to hear Krista Tippett’s radio program, “Being,” which featured a four-way dialogue on the subject of happiness in various religious tradition. As each speaker (the Dalai Lama, the chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, a Muslim scholar from Georgetown University, and the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church) commented, I was struck by how similar their explanations were and how little each had to do with material wealth. Rather, they all had much in common with the philosophy behind conflict resolution.

Rabbi Sachs quoted a passage from Deuteronomy, in which the believer is exhorted to let go of hate in order to be free. Letting hate go, however, is not always easy. Wrapping oneself in anger over an insult, a family dispute or the thoughtlessness of a spouse has the effect of binding oneself in emotional ropes that inhibit progress toward the future and emotional growth. That is why mediators put great emphasis on feelings as well as facts when each party to a conflict is asked to relate his/her side of the conflict. Until the disputants can explain themselves clearly to each other in a civil fashion, with the help of a mediator, they cannot make progress toward a solution.

Surprisingly, the Muslim scholar, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, and the Dalai Lama had very similar recommendations for happiness: get rid of the negativity inside. For a Muslim, ridding oneself of anger is the greater jihad, an ongoing struggle, not with an external enemy, but with one’s own bad thoughts and habits. For most of the world’s Muslims, this is the most difficult task assigned by their faith. Buddhists focus on a similar goal but couch it in positive terms. In seeking to follow the noble eightfold path, they strive for right views, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Indeed, avoiding craving of all sorts is the only way to escape sorrow.

To choose mediation over more aggressive ways of dealing with conflict is to opt for a more peaceful future. In mediation, not only does each party learn to listen to each other but both have the opportunity to work together to resolve a seemingly impossible situation. Rather than commissioning lawyers to negotiate for them, disputants can brainstorm together for solutions and reach a mutually satisfying agreement. When both parties walk away with their needs and interests fulfilled, there are no grudges and no resentments to poison future interaction.

The Episcopal Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, reminded listeners that human beings are created to be happy and that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blesses those who are merciful and those who are peacemakers. Clearly, offering the gift of mercy to one’s adversary and making an effort to clear away the fog of disagreement are what mediation is all about. Why do we make life so hard for ourselves by choosing anger?

You can listen to the interfaith broadcast on happiness online at http://being.publicradio.org/programs/2010/pursuing-happiness/video-intheroom_hhdl.shtml You can schedule a mediation or register for conflict resolution training at mediationac@yahoo.com or 717-334-7312. Visit the MSAC website at www.mediateadams.org

Janet M. Powers is Presiding Officer of Mediation Services of Adams County and Professor Emerita at Gettysburg College.