“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
I find these words from Martin Luther King, Jr. to beautiful and poetic, and epic and Biblical in proportion— there’s something very dramatic about darkness driving out darkness. Yet beneath the poetry, there is practical wisdom. We all recognize this wisdom intrinsically– it’s part of folk belief as well, as heard via expressions like, ” You can’t fight fire with fire.” Yet how effective are we in putting this wisdom into practice?
If someone isn’t listening, raising our voice or repeating what we’ve said is unlikely to have the impact we’d like. This is like throwing more fire on the fire! What would something different–like bringing light to darkness—look like in this case?
Or, in a work environment, if someone you supervise is not completing a task in the time frame or way you’d like, do you find that you might go back and give them the same direction again?
How about instead pausing and checking in with the other person? “I notice we’ve talked about this issue a few times and I’m not seeing the changes we reviewed… so am wondering what ideas you have about how to address this?” Or, in the first case, “I notice that I’ve raised my voice and am talking over you… which I don’t think is fun for either of us. So I want to pause and see if there’s something you’d like me to hear right now?”
To be able to pause and change our direction from what’s customary and familiar to us, can take practice and is not always easy at first. Yet bringing “light” into a conversation in this way is transformative—it usually leads to a completely different and often surprising outcome, and a creative solution that I might have otherwise missed. I encourage you to try bringing “water to the fire” or “light to darkness” this week, and let me know how it goes for you!