Humanity

What Happens When You Don’t Participate in Arguments or Controversy?

Practicing the Principle of Non-Contention to Cultivate a More Loving Humanity

Darren Stehle
Sep 14 · 7 min read
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Photo by Sushil Nash on Unsplash

“The way for humans is to act without contention.”

If there were a single, most valuable lesson to be gleaned from the “Tao Te Ching,” it would be the quote above; the last lines of the last of the 81 verses (Derek Lin translation).

6 Principles for Cultivating Open-Hearted Personal Leadership

Over the next while, I will be introducing six personal leadership principles based on my study and contemplation of the Tao Te Ching. This ancient wisdom offers timeless advice for the modern world that we can immediately put into practice to cultivate humane social evolution, eliminate inequality, and save the planet.

In this article, I will introduce the 1st Principle of Non-Contention.

So that we are all on the same page, here are the 6 Principles:

  1. Witness with Impartiality
  2. Compassion
  3. Flexible Yielding
  4. Humility
  5. Oneness

We Have One Mouth and Two Ears.

As the wise old saying goes, use them wisely.

When was the last time you felt deeply heard by another person?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How did you respond and interact with that person as a result?
  • What words would you use to describe the experience?
  • If the interaction started as an argument, what did you notice, and what happened when you realized you were understood and you no longer needed to defend your position?
  • What did you notice about your body as your defences dropped?

Pull out your mirror and flip this scenario.

Consider the following questions:

  • What did that feel like?
  • Which scenario did you prefer and why?

The Space for Non-Contention Exists Between Two or More People, Face-to-Face.

The shorter the communication medium, e.g., 256 characters on Twitter, and the more that technology is used in place of sitting next to someone in conversation, the greater the possibility for contention.

Non-contention requires our greatest humanity.

We are social animals conditioned as babies and through our childhood by our parents to seek connection, care, attention, love, and belonging. These are the core needs of the mammalian part of our brain that responds to social safety and security. When we face another human being, if we feel safe enough to open up and be vulnerable, we build a potential relationship bridge towards understanding that person and their side of the conversation.

Non-contention as an action consists of compassion, humility, and impartiality.

When we understand and accept that we are all one, that we are all connected in our humanity — however different we may appear or act, however different our beliefs — we will recognize that we all want essentially the same things: to be loved, respected, and to belong.

The Ultimate Practice: Silent Listening.

This is when silence becomes a great strength; not silence in the sense of not speaking up, instead, silence practiced as a form of impartial witnessing, of being open to understanding the other person’s beliefs, values, and morals, and as an equalizing practice.

Two ears — one mouth.

When you allow the space for the other person arguing from their side of the polarity, without reacting or responding, they may just begin to speak towards the middle-ground — the centre that connects both sides of the argument. It’s human nature for us to want to close conversational loops, especially sentences that end with a question. The other person might eventually talk themselves out of contention when they realize you are not adding fuel to the argument.

When you stop resisting and pushing back, you allow the other side to take cautious steps towards you.

This is not an easy practice, especially when it is in our nature to defend ourselves when under threat, even if that defence is standing up for what we believe to be right using our words.

Yielding is not about being a push-over or giving up.

Yielding means giving way, and in this context, it’s an appropriate metaphor.

None of the 6 Principles Are Definitives.

In other words, these principles are elevated in the sense that they require practice and constant conscientious attention and personal responsibility. If you fail at any of these leadership principles more often than you succeed, then your success is the fact that you are practicing.

What makes us human is our fallibility.

When we are not feeling at our best, it’s exceptionally difficult to employ one if not all of these leadership principles. Sometimes deescalation is best (and safest) accomplished by walking away — but I would suggest that not be your default.

The point I wish to drive home is this:

If we want to create a more loving and humane world, improvement and social evolution will take time, never-ending practice, focused and clear emotional intentions, conscientiousness, self-awareness, personal responsibility, and perhaps most importantly, hope.


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Darren Stehle

Written by

Cultivating open-hearted leadership to inspire personal responsibility, acceptance, and freedom: http://darrenstehle.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 120,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Darren Stehle

Written by

Cultivating open-hearted leadership to inspire personal responsibility, acceptance, and freedom: http://darrenstehle.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 120,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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