Conflict. Disagreement. Opposing viewpoints. I don’t much like any of them, especially when they involve me and those I’m in relationship with. Some people tell me they like controversy, spirited opposition, debate and argument. They say it energizes them, excites them, gets their juices flowing. All that conflict does for me is make my stomach churn.

 

So, at Meeting last Sunday, when our Worship-Sharing time focused on queries about resolving conflict, I did a lot of deep breathing.   As we settled into silence, we were asked to consider these queries from North Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice:

 

When problems and conflicts arise, do we make timely endeavors to resolve them in a spirit of love and humility?

 

How do we use our diversity for the spiritual growth of our Meeting?

 

Are we prepared to let go of our individual desires and let the Holy Spirit lead us to unity?

In the silence, I sat with these questions.

 

Make timely endeavors to resolve conflict? I usually put it off as long as possible.

 

Use diversity for spiritual growth? I subscribe more to the “birds of a feather, flock together” approach.

 

Let go of my individual desires and be led by Spirit? Sure, once my fingers are pried away from their grip on my conviction that I’m right.

 

I know that many people throughout the world face the kind of conflict that threatens their lives. I’m blessed to live in a time and place that is not fraught with such violence, fortunate to rarely encounter hostility in my daily life. And yet, I don’t feel in unity with everyone, at all times. Whether it’s in my Quaker Meeting, at work, in my family, or among friends and community, sometimes tempers flare, opposing views swirl, or anger erupts. When that happens, there’s the familiar churn of my stomach. My heart races, my throat closes up, my head throbs. I’m afraid.

 

The conflicts most common in my life stir fears of discovering I’m wrong or have made a mistake. I succumb to old beliefs from childhood that there is a “right” way to act or believe, as if there is only one right answer. I fear disapproval and rejection. In introductory psychology, I learned that animals respond to fear in one of two ways – fight or flight. I don’t want to do either, yet engaging with the differences brings a pounding to my chest.

 

Quaker practice has taught me to listen, to lead with a question instead of defending my opinion. When I remember to ask, rather than answer, I open myself to the possibility that there is something for me to learn.

 

I wish that the path to resolving conflict wasn’t bordered with so much humility, patience, and letting go. What I know experimentally, though, is that it is in times of conflict, times when I listen deeply to the words and beyond the words, that I grow.

 

 

 

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Comment by Forrest Curo on 3rd mo. 8, 2012 at 5:07pm

In Spring 2003, I gave a student presentation at Pendle Hill: "The Need for More Conflict Among Friends." And subsequently wrote about this at greater length.

This did reach some influential Friends-- which makes me partially responsible for your discomfort. Which I share.

But as Dan Snyder, a favorite teacher there pointed out, not only can we have 'nonviolent conflict'... but there are some states rightly called  'violent peace': ie, where the conditions of people's lives do them violence, yet the conflict manifest in such oppression remains suppressed.

Words of apparently sweet reason can kill. "Poverty," said Theresa Funiciello, "is the number one killer of children in the USA." This was before the inadequate welfare programs we'd previously had were rendered harsher and less adequate in the name of "reform." I haven't found a great many women with kids and no place to go; I haven't been looking. It didn't take many to make me angry... It doesn't make me as angry as the guy who tore out the back porch of our apartment, but it should.

When I see the national discussion of poverty-- being led by the people who do the most to cause and exacerbate it, being misdirected towards personal scapegoats and away from the obvious solutions (such as "Give people money for doing some of the many 'unaffordable' tasks w...")

I can't argue usefully with anyone who doesn't want to know what I'm saying. Some ways of conducting conflicts lead to 'resolution'-- and some lead to mutual mental nourishment-- and some just turn to huffandpuff.

And I can't really lay this one down. But I keep needing to leave it in God's hands.

Comment by Iris Graville on 3rd mo. 14, 2012 at 11:06am

Forreset,

Thank you for taking time to respond to my blog post.  I'm still reading and digesting your pamphlet on the need for more conflict among Friends.

In your post, I was struck by this comment:  "I can't argue usefully with anyone who doesn't want to know what I'm saying."  Although I prefer a different mode than "arguing," I agree that listening and being heard are essential when there is conflict.  I have to remind myself to listen, especially when another's viewpoint is contrary to mine. 

And sometimes, it's hard to know if the other party wants to know what we're saying. I continue to learn how to listen and how to promote an environment where I can be heard. What has worked for you to both listen and be heard?

Comment by Forrest Curo on 3rd mo. 14, 2012 at 1:23pm

Why do you ask "What has worked?" See, I've got a gift for words-- and I can't even assume that what someone reads will be what I meant to say.

I've certainly learned not to assume that what someone wrote does justice to the meaning they intend.

Sometimes I need to bodily pull myself away from relying on strategies, trying so hard to 'win' that I'm not tasting what I'm arguing against. To remember that it's God that needs to win. I keep thinking I need to look good-- and there's a lost cause if I ever need something really challenging!

Two lawyers arguing in court... probably as useful as two Medieval warriors thumping one another. Two people mustering arguments in an effort to clarify matters, to see what they can find that fits the reality best... can be better than one.

I try, more or less successfully, to promote an environment where there's at least one person listening. Even that means remembering to ask God "What's true here?"-- & waiting for that to clarify.

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