“…people with social commitments have a special responsibility to intervene to end shunning, facilitate communication and to do the work to reveal complex views of human behavior as we practise self-criticism and stand up to negative groups.” Sarah Schulman in her book, Conflict is Not Abuse, urges us to ruthlessly pursue the issues of overstating harm,and the duty to repair as a community response to blame and shunning. She insists that we stand up to bullies, stay connected to people in real time and stay strong in the face of injustice. I will focus more on her work in Part Three.
Last week I was at an event and saw someone I had long ago decided was my “enemy”. I had at least 5 solid reasons to avoid them, one being that they never approached me even though we had friends in common and had sat at a potluck table together a few times. I looked up and they were suddenly walking in my direction. They came close to me, only to speak to someone else. I wanted to test out my invitation to TIG readers last week to try doing one thing to increase connection in the community. I faced the person and made it clear I wanted to talk. We made some small talk and then I asked them some deeper questions. I noticed feelings of aversion rise when the person failed to inquire about me but I listened and withheld judgement. I knew that there was an issue that we both cared about so I focused on asking questions about their related experience. Afterwards, I felt cautiously open-hearted towards that person. I noticed that my need for attention and approval from others may have been blocking my bigger needs to be curious, empowered and included. I learned that taking the high road requires taking charge of making inroads with others, especially ones I have judged to be my adversary.
We all have real and imagined conflicts with ourselves and others. Sometimes avoidance of conflict is skillful as long as we are creating new neural pathways that eventually allow the release of blame, shame, paranoia and anxiety. This kind of inner work requires guidance and long-term commitment to healing. I want to ask myself every morning: “Today, how can I re-solve my personal suffering for the sake of a healthier world?” Whenever I get triggered into harmful emotions, I know I need to take time out to care for my need for honesty, support and self-empathy.
Multiple global and local crises are colliding and threatening our mental health and civil society. When we fall in and out of numbness, anger, despair and grief, we are joining the ranks of all other delicate sentient beings. When we can stay open to the ebb and flow of our inner experience, we can sometimes get flooded; being stuck in any emotional state for too long signals a need for training the mind, self-compassion and healthy outside support. Preparing the mind, each and everyday for times of stress and turmoil is important work.
Ideally, people will make the effort to get help to become resourced enough to step up to face conflict in person. Trying to resolve conflict using the cops or the law is the very last resort. So is the use of email, Facebook, etc. Hiding behind a screen is a waste of everyone’s time. Punishment and shunning never resolves conflict, it does, however, escalate conflict.
“Perhaps the only hope for the planet lies in our willingness to end our personal suffering.” (Eli Jaxon-Bear.) I think the same holds true for community well-being.