Spirit of the Game: Resolving conflict


Recently I was honored to speak at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community Center’s Sunday Service about conflict resolution and honoring all walks of life.

Some people think that a holistic community shouldn’t have disagreements, disputes or conflicts. However, no walk of life is immune to emotions. It’s how you handle them that counts. In fact, many people gloss over anger and disputes, because they think it will make the situation worse. However, it’s by finding the underlying fear that will help people find new awareness and create growth.

In the Ultimate Frisbee world, we have what’s called “The Spirit of the Game.” There are no refs, no umps. We self-officiate. In the highest levels of competition (Nationals, Worlds), there are sometimes “observers” to help mediate disputes, but given the number of tournaments played, these count for a fraction of a percent.

So, as players, we call our own fouls and we try to not create fouls. We can contest fouls. And we have a series of rules that mediate disputes. The goal isn’t to prove right or wrong. It’s to reduce dangerous play and maximize playing time. In other sports with refs and umps, some athletes rely on the “don’t get caught” style of play. They will push the bubble, knowing they can get away with quite a bit.

I often credit the “The Spirit of the Game” and Ultimate Frisbee with helping me gain confidence over shyness and anger and navigate my professional life. I’m not always perfect, but I’m always grateful for the opportunity to improve and contribute to this community and others.

In fact, based on some concepts from Ultimate, here are some anger and dispute perspectives that help me navigate and mediate my life:

  • Best Perspective (Broadest Perspective) – When there is a “wrong,” ask yourself: What is the biggest, broadest, best explanation of understanding something? Is there something that you don’t know about this person or situation that might help? Is there a way to jump to the best assumption versus the worst?
  • Play On (It’s Not Personal #1) – Often a foul is a foul, but it wasn’t intended. Given the chance, they would not want to do it again.
  • Play On (It’s Not Personal #2) – Sometimes it’s not about you, but you’re a convenient foil or canvas. When we interact with others, we’re talking to their family, friends, ex’s, bosses and interacting with their history (commonly known as baggage). If the volume of anger seems out of proportion to the transgression, then don’t own the anger, but listen to the words.
  • Out of Bounds – Bringing up the past and grudges is not allowed (unless they have not been addressed nor respected). Keep the discussion focused on the situation at hand – and recognize that there may never be a solution!
  • Time Out – If someone’s anger is so loud that they can’t listen and they are repeating themselves over and over, ask for a timeout. Anger closes ears.
  • Time Cap – Although games are usually to a certain score, that’s not life. Sometimes we run out of time. Do you want a particular argument to be the last thing you did in life?
  • Wins/Losses – There is no scoring in relationships or life. Ask yourself, is the disagreement more important than X or Y or Z? Ask yourself why you are attached to that feeling or emotion. What entitles you to it, and does it serve? By assessing priorities, we can decide whether we want to expend our energy in a particular way.
  • We’re a Team – What is good for the individual is not always good for the team. We participate in activities because we want to be a part of a greater community or family. This can take patience, especially because we can project our anger on the people who care the most. Also, what we don’t like about others are the characteristics we carry ourselves. Ask yourself, is there an attachment that doesn’t address the greater good? Have I done this to other people? How can I resolve this within myself? By taking this step, we can become both team players and coaches at the same time.

Ultimately, when disagreements happen, don’t run. Slow down time and see what is yours, what you can mediate and what you can transform. By understanding our fears and being more proactive in leading and following, we can create a beautiful team of humanity. Play on!



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