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NONFICTION : THE MAGIC OF CONFLICT by Thomas F. Crum (Simon & Schuster: $19.95; 256 pp.).

November 01, 1987|Sean Callahan

Thomas F. Crum is a master in the martial art of Aikido, which has the purpose of resolving ". . . physical conflict by making the attack harmless without doing harm even to the attacker." In this book, he describes the Aiki approach to life, which generalizes this goal to non-physical conflicts and also includes ". . . the blending and harmonizing aspart of daily life." Ai is Japanese for blending, and ki is the energy inherent in all things.

Conflict typically has negative connotations in our society. We often impose on it the framework of contest where there must be winners and losers. One important aspect of this approach is to view conflict as an opportunity for growth and change, where the goal is to allow everyone to win.

An example of dealing effectively with a potentially negative situation is given in the book. Some schoolchildren decide, at recess, that during class, they will simultaneously drop their books. At 10:18, when the teacher's back is turned, there is a loud bang. The teacher calmly turns around and with a smile walks over to her desk, picks up a book and drops it with a bang. She then apologizes for being late. At this point, her ability to interrelate with the class has increased instead of decreasing as would be the case if she had allowed herself to become an angry loser or worse to strike back in order to be the winner.

This teacher has defined success in the context of her classroom to be maintaining and improving her relationship with the children. Crum's main thesis is that most conflicts, if dealt with in creative ways, can make positive contributions to life. What is required is a willingness to change when change is constructive and to redefine success in a way that respects the goals and aspirations of others.

The Aiki approach also requires that one feel whole and balanced on a personal level. To address this issue, Crum describes several simple techniques using breathing, visualization and meditation to achieve physical and psychological balance. From this "centered" state, it is easier to evaluate a situation objectively and to respond in creative and constructive ways.

Although the style is sometimes a bit awkward, this book has something to say to all of us. It invites us to evaluate what is really important to us at a human level and to keep the channels of this evaluation open as we explore and discover life instead of just letting it happen.

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