When working with people in conflict and dispute I am regularly asked ‘Is all this worth it?, ‘ ‘Is it worth spending so much time on this?’, ‘Can we not speed this up and get on with things?’. Sometimes it seems as though talking things through can take too long. It doesn’t seem to make financial sense sometimes to a company and distracts too much from the ‘work’ that needs to get done.
There are many reasons why it makes sense to spend time resolving conflict. Often the people who are presenting conflict to us can be prompting us to address things that we ourselves need to address and don’t want to, or are creating an obstacle in our path which redirects our focus to where we need to go, but we cannot see it at the time. This came home to me in a very poignant way a few days ago.
At this time of year we are all reminded of 9/11, one of the worst results of conflict imaginable. Over the past few days we have seen many reminders on television of these events and the aftermath for survivors, families, friends and societies everywhere which were affected by it and are living with the consequences. I was very touched by one programme recalling the experience of one survivor and a number of firemen who helped her.
Aware that the situation was critical, a number of firemen who were high up in the North Tower began to make their way down the stairs with others fleeing the building. On the way they came across a woman who was crying out in pain. She had injured her leg. The chief fire officer decided that they could not leave her behind and that they would have to help her down with them. In the confined space they made very slow progress. They were aware that they needed to get out fast and were now in serious difficulty. He stopped and went looking for a chair. He happened to stop at one of the only floors in the building that didn’t have offices, frantically looking for a chair, again, slowing down their progress. Their need for speed and the desire to leave the injured woman and run must have been intolerable.
Just as the chief fire officer got back to his team in the stairwell, the North Tower collapsed. They were trapped in the debris. When the dust settled, all were present and alive. Using their radios they were able to communicate outside and were rescued, all 13 officers and the injured woman. They were the only survivors of the collapse. This was because of their location in the Tower. Had they been on the lower floors, they would have been crushed by the collapse and had they been higher, would have been too close to the explosion. It was as though they were cocooned in the only area of the building left sufficiently intact preventing them from being killed.
It struck me that although sometimes we believe we need to move faster to make progress, that we will fail if we don’t, that we don’t have the time to go slowly, it is not always the case. At the time we may not be able to see the benefit of making sure no one gets left behind and showing compassion even when it asks so much of us.
The chief fire officer who was recounting this story concluded by saying that ‘ by trying to save her life that day, we didn’t realise that they were inadvertently saving our own’.