“What would Jesus do?” say some. “What would Grandma do?” say others. These figures, who often are not with us, serve as inspiration to be somebody better, to “take the high road” at challenging moments.
For me, when such moments involve tension between human beings, I have my own version of this: “what would the hostage negotiator do?”
I’m not talking about any old hostage negotiator. I speak of the hostage negotiator as an idealized image of what I believe – a fictitious, benevolent soul that is nevertheless based on the very real, very precious work that actual hostage negotiators do in situations in which hostages are taken.
Think about this: if somebody goes so far as to take hostages, a few things become razor-sharp crystal clear real fast:
- Innocent lives are potentially at stake at any moment.
- The hostage-taker either has a demand they want met or they want to be heard.
- There is no way a situation like this is likely to end well unless the person negotiating with the hostage taker does an awful lot of listening.
I’m going to admit right now: I don’t personally know any professional hostage negotiators – nor do I have a great deal of knowledge of the ins and outs of this profession. That’s why my “hostage negotiator” [in my head] is fictitious.
What I do admire, however, is the idea that is built into this kind of work that the first priority is to avoid harm as much as possible – and thus the overarching imperative to LISTEN, before anything else.
When tensions get high and people feel unsafe, trust breaks down, and unnecessary harm often happens (even when no hostages are involved). How do we avoid escalation? In others, and in ourselves? The first step always involves listening. Even if what you’re hearing is horrifying or extremely disturbing – still, you must keep an open mind, listen, and figure out what you can work with, especially if you are a hostage negotiator!
There’s no way you can know what you’re dealing with until you open yourself up to seeing it all. A hostage negotiator must constantly take this into account, in the extreme. This is why, even in situations that are not so extreme, I look to the hostage negotiator as my role model for keeping a cool, levelheaded, open-minded outlook – a perspective that is always open to new ways of looking at things, and new possible solutions to the conflicts at hand. I strive, as much as possible, to accept these realities as I learn them and work with them, rather than resisting or fighting them – and the hostage negotiator is my role model in this.