Evolutionary Reconciliation: Part 3

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“Conflict, after all, is rooted in difference and people are and always will be different. With the exception of natural disasters…most of the pain, waste, and neglect towards human life that we create….are consequences of our overreaction to difference.This is expressed through our resistance to facing and resolving problems, which is overwhelmingly a refusal to change how we see ourselves, in order to be accountable.” Sarah Schulman

In her book “Conflict Is Not Abuse” Sarah Schulman, a tenured professor at New York City University, claims: “I believe in the unconscious.” She believes that understanding how unconscious insecurity/anxiety can fuel the tendency of overstating of harm which then leads to the abuse of power. Anxiety is a very uncomfortable emotion. When insecure people, bullies and police officers, who have social/structural power, are unconscious of their own anxiety, they will tend to project that anxiety onto others who they perceive as a threat. We are all vulnerable to the existential threats of illness, accidents, suffering and weakness. This truth is denied by our current system, anxiety goes underground and becomes the norm. “Power over” or abuse, occurs when someone with social/economic status uses their power to dehumanize the other. Conflict is what occurs between people who share equal power dynamics; i.e. “power with.” People and groups that insist on perfection and use the good/bad dichotomy, are refusing to see their own distorted thinking, which of course, arises from the unconscious mind. The Supremacist/narcissist person/group thinks it is entitled to never question themselves, and to scapegoat, shun, issue threats or inflict punishment. This creates insecurity and instability in the entire community.  

When we abandon our duty to advocate for open dialogue in family and community conflicts, we unwittingly give that power over to the unconscious and also to the state, e.g. the police and the courts who will move in to administer punishment. Alternatively, stepping in to intervene in a conflict requires coming from a well-resourced community. Victims and villains both think: “you need help,” but community-minded, conscious folks acknowledge “we need help.” Take a deep breath and let this bold idea, thanks to Wendell Berry, sink in: “The smallest unit of health is a community.” Yes, the individual is simply a reflection of family and of the community. 

The gesture of inviting people stuck in conflict to sit down face to face, look into each others’ eyes, and to listen from the heart evolves the process of reconciliation.  As Chief Robert Joseph says: “Reconciliation should be a core value and it should suffuse the way we live and breathe. We need to start thinking about our own lives and what needs reconciling. It could be a broken relationship, or it could be a family squabble or it could be substance abuse or fear.” Who will you call upon this week, who can help you look at what next we can do together to organize community here on this blessed island, on this sacred planet?