What Happens to Us Stays Inside
What causes conflict in life? This deceptively simple question could be the ultimate design challenge in terms of threats to our happiness and wellbeing. Think about the situations where conflict surfaces most often: families, neighbourhoods, communities, organisations and, indeed, all over the world. There is an obvious common denominator. It seems conflict on one level or another occurs anyplace people are .. but why?
So, we’ve been talking since early March 2020 as part of this online collaboration experiment looking at such questions against the backdrop of the global pandemic. Why you may ask? The answer is, of course, just for the fun of it. It would also be true to say in the beginning we had no idea that was what we were doing. The question was posed by one of the participants whose interest stemmed from a social-come-spiritual concern about behaviour observed during the early stages of the lockdown. We’re talking mass panic; aggression; fake news and conspiracy theories spun out over social media channels and even via the more mainstream news channels.
”If you set to work to believe everything, you will tire out the believing-muscles of your mind, and then you’ll be so weak you won’t be able to believe the simplest true things.”– Lewis Carroll
Back then, according to the prevailing narrative, lockdown felt like a binary choice between hell and high-water. If you discounted the stories about Chinese malfeasance; virus spewing 5G towers and the fulfilment of various flavours of doomsday prophecies you were left with panic buying toilet paper or sense-making with fellow-travellers around a blazing Zoom campfire. We went for the warmth of sense-making around the campfire. Today it is more an interesting conversation which we regard as an achievement, given the fact that after almost 7 months it is still going strong. One should never underestimate what can be achieved when we keep talking to each other.
What we’ve come up with so far might be considered prosaic by some, mundane even. However, certain themes kept popping up. Chief amongst them is how the power of stories help us make sense of life’s wicked issues by excavating buried narratives and extracting meaning from the remnants. We are after all talking about peace, aren’t we? Isn’t that what the absence of conflict is, peace? We’re not talking necessarily in grand terms, more the kind of peace that prevents you from rushing out and buying toilet paper; inner peace.
As in stories, so it is in life. Conflicts, while being undesirable, seem to be an inevitable part of the human condition. At worst conflict causes abject suffering and unimaginable atrocities. They can also be a prelude to the most extraordinary change; propellants for unstoppable movements and new eras of human cooperation – if we approach them with an open mind. An open mind in this context means no agenda and understanding there is no changing what the universe intends to be. It is already unfolding for us and has been for the longest time, we just need to accept, tune-in and flow.
So it would seem holding space in a safe environment with people we trust can help us overcome trauma by creating a ring of confidence where social healing can unfurl and a shared vision emerges. Bearing in mind courage is not developed by each sitting inside our respective comfort zones, no matter how much toilet paper there is stashed away. It requires gentle and persistent confrontation of the triggers to which we have been conditioned to react and dialogue with the unknown and unseen quantities that eventually present as conflict.
To hold space is to embrace the data others see in a situation that we can’t; taking care of each other’s blind spots. Practice makes progress and in time we can learn to hold the tension without having to resolve the uncertainty by ourselves. This is what it means to trust. Sure, it can feel uncomfortable at first but with each failure, there is more experience, more sense-making, more appetite. Peace then is not the absence of conflict. It is the presence of shared possibilities.