The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dealing with Difficult People in Dangerous Times: Finding the Soft Side


When living in volatile times, dealing with people who have been immersed in dangerous ideologies and encouraged by strident propaganda in many forms, it is useful to turn to someone who survived the experience for wisdom on how to deal with such people. Paul Ruseabagina, hotel manager of the Milles Collines in Rwanda, is one such person. On April 6, 1994, Rwanda descended into hell. The nation's president was assassinated and centuries-old divisions between the Hutus and Tutsis rose up and lead to the slaughter of far too many. During the genocide that followed, Paul Ruseabagina was able to save over 1200 Tutsi and moderate Hutu refuges hiding inside his luxury hotel. He used the talents he'd honed as a hotel manager for flattering and changing the minds of difficult people to help keep these innocents alive while so many others were dying in the streets, in their homes, and in the churches they had taken sanctuary within. Here is his reflection on one approach to dealing with persons who have come to kill others. Note that there is no Rambo or John McLean in this approach, but a far more subtle tactic, a tactic that worked.
I have since thought a great deal about how people are able to maintain two attitudes in their minds at once. Take the colonel. He had come fresh from a world of machetes, road gangs, and random death and yet was able to have a civilized conversation with a hotel manager over a glass of beer and let himself be talked out of committing another murder. He had a soft side and a hard side and neither was in absolute control of his actions. It would have been dangerous to assume that he was this way or that way at any given point in the day.  … The cousin of brutality is a terrifying normalcy. So I tried never to see these men in terms of black and white. I saw them instead in degrees of soft and hard. It was the soft that I was trying to locate inside them; once I could get my fingers into it, the advantage was mine. If sitting down with abhorrent people and treating them as friends is what it took to get through to that soft side, then I was more than happy to pour the Scotch.  
From An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography  

Food for thought in contentious days ...


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