Embracing Conflict in 2020
Updated: Nov 21, 2020
2020 was a year that asked, “Who are you?”
It was a year that asked who we are -- as people, parents, friends -- when everyday routines and structures disappear. It was a year that asked who we are in community, when illness, death, and joblessness strike at massive scale. It was a year that asked, with rage, who we are when we allow police to kill Black men, women, and children relentlessly and without consequence. It was a year that asked, with dismay, who we are when 30,000 year-old old glaciers crash into the sea before our eyes. And, it was a year that asked who we are, really, as a country.
In all these questions, one thing we know for sure is that we, the folx hoping to transform the world, are people in conflict. Whether we are trying to share a cramped apartment or manage a volunteer food pantry or organize a march or decide on national policy demands, we are always, inevitably and constantly, in conflict.
What if, as people, groups, and communities, we could find strength and insight in our conflicts? What if we didn't approach conflicts as problems, but as opportunities to begin responding to our hardest questions?
This is the powerful idea behind generative conflict, an approach and set of practices that has been shaped over time by many wonderful people and groups.
It’s the idea behind a new resource, Turning Toward Each Other: A Conflict Workbook, by Jovida Ross and Weyam Ghadbian, that offers refreshingly practical and accessible tools that we can use every day.
In Turning Toward Each Other, Jovida and Weyam pulled together and built upon pieces that they, as social justice movement builders, have found useful in their lives and work. Jovida and Weyam bravely offer Turning Toward Each Other not as “experts”, but as humans who, like all of us, are trying to figure this out. (I helped a bit with developing and editing Turning Toward Each Other, and laugh with Jovida and Weyam that in the process we ourselves ran into conflict!)
Turning Toward Each Other is organized into three sections: Self Explorations, with pieces like “Conflict Habits That Undermine Trust, And What To Do Instead”; Group Explorations, that includes tools such as “Our Conflict Patterns”; and, Communicating What Matters, with exercises including, “Preparing for a Courageous Conversation.” Turning Toward Each Other doesn’t seek to cover everything, but what it provides are a handful of powerfully useful tools that anyone can apply.
Turning Toward Each Other is about rolling up our sleeves and diving in together -- and it is deeply grounded in movement and ancestral wisdom, as well as vision for the future. As Jovida and Weyam write,
Because we live in a world shaped by legacies of brutal colonization, enslavement, and heteropatriarchy, we must assume that these power structures are always present in us and our relationships. Whether or not we have formal power, we can enact subtle and gross forms of anti-Blackness, white supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, and other structural oppressions. When we avoid conflict or move through it carelessly, we end up acting out and reinforcing micro versions of oppressive structural patterns unconsciously, even if we are from an identity harmed by those systems. This can end relationships, sidetrack organizations, and undermine social movements.
2020 has forced us to reflect, to ask ourselves hard questions, and most importantly, to grow.
What better way to respond to this year, to honor its grief and hardship, to choose into our best selves, than to embrace the gift of conflict?
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