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.