Conflict Resolution and Social Permaculture

What if fighting, violence, and war were preventable and we simply didn’t know it?” (2000, p.xviii)

Yesterday was the last day in a “Conflict Resolution” course I took as part of the Certificates on Emergency Management and Leadership from the Justice Institute (JIBC).

It was an intensive, emotionally heavy course that finished with a full day of role playing assisted by experienced coaches: a training I recommend to anybody in almost any position, but a must for those involved in any type of community work, social services, mediation, facilitation/adult education, social justice and leadership of any kind.

I loved how the processes we studied in this “conflict resolution” course are so similar to some of the topics I have been writing about in my three blogs (this about Permaculture, where I have written about observation and awareness as first step for any design/planning and how to change patterns of erosion/depletion; my “Living as if Others Mattered” blog on the predicaments we face and my “career-focused” blog where I have written about “know thyself” as the main piece in pursuing the “Right Livelihood”).

And as I have been creating my “toolkit” of teachings that would be wonderful to make free and available to everyone (instead of forcing children and teenagers to sit for hours trying to memorize and write about topics that will never help them in life and probably will never use, not even at work), I will share here some of the main points I took with me from this course.

Obviously, I cannot share the role playing and the actual experiences and insights most of the participants lived through, but if you can use this with an emotionally mature partner, friend or small group of trusted people, I assure you this will make you grow and see the world with other lenses: it will help in your relationship with yourself, your loved ones, your colleagues at work and even strangers in the street…and in difficult times, the best preparation is that what you carry inside, the one you will never forget to pack and will always serve you.

What is conflict and what feeds it?

This is a question for you: your definition of conflict would show you how you tend to approach it and whether you think it can be solved and how.

For example, some people talk about conflict using war terminology: “win”, “lose”, “weapons”, “fight”, “parties”, “give up”, “victim”, “attack” and so on.

Other people may see conflict as a puzzle to be solved or as a learning/growing opportunity and may use words as “process”, “negotiation”, “solution”, “work together”, “focus”, “common ground” and the like.

Awareness

The first of the course was centered in self-awareness: only when we are fully aware of our own emotions, behaviours, thoughts, expectations, reactions and the impact we have on others we can start working on the conflict resolution model.

In Permaculture, we call this piece “observe and interact” and this applies first to ourselves: we can’t change the landscape or even how we use the resources of the world if we don’t understand our own values, bias, beliefs, expectations, needs and wants;…or our potential: products, skills, impacts.

 

Ask yourself:

  • How do you see the world?
  • How do you see people?
  • What is your most dominant way of solving conflict?
  • What did you learn about conflict from your family? From life experience?
  • What are your unmet needs/expectations and wants that may make you vulnerable to conflict?
  • What are your beliefs, values and bias and how they may relate to conflict with yourself, the world and others?

The Belief Cycle

Nate Booth (1997) created a “belief cycle” that resembles the “spirals” in social Permaculture from Looby McNamara:

belief cycle
From “Conflict Resolution” – Centre of Conflict Resolution – Justice Institute of British Columbia

 

Let’s see how it works: 1) you believe in something (i.e. “everyone has a hidden agenda and I can’t trust them”), this belief may be ingrained in your mind as a result of difficult experiences you had a child, young adult or even recently: if the experiences were painful or uncomfortable enough, they will stick and create a “belief”.

2) Because you believe the above, you focus on people who may effectively hurt/betray you may also “see” that in people who have no intentions whatsoever of hurting/betraying you.

3) The focus above determines the “meaning”: because you are focusing on the negative, you will see “evidence” that supports your belief (proof that you are right and others are wrong)

4) The constant focus and looking for evidence influence your feelings (you start feeling hurt, betrayed, suspicious, etc.)

5) This chain affects your actions (you act defensively by putting a barrier, not allowing people to share openly, you need to be in control)

6) Your actions create results: others who may not have any intention of hurting/betraying you may see your actions and emotions towards them as paranoiac, defensive, controlling, etc. You may do things that make you to be seen as unaccountable, with a hidden agenda and hierarchical and as someone who attacks and betrays first (to avoid being betrayed or attacked): exactly the belief you had in the first place and what you think you are trying to avoid…conflict!

You can apply this to almost anything: the stories you tell yourself about how the world work and how other people function determine what you read listen and focus on, as well as how you relate to others and what you do in your life.

Breaking the cycle

The cycle self-feeds until you make an intentional decision to intervene. Cycles or, as Looby calls them: spirals or patterns can be “positive” or “negative”: either they work for you and are of regenerative nature or they destroy what is important for you and are eroding or polluting.

You can intervene this cycle by being intentional and change at any of the stages of the cycle: for example, you can try a different “belief” by saying: “how would life be if I challenge this belief?

Your intervention may come at three different levels:

  • Head: you intentionally start telling yourself a different story and practice with somebody else: this will change your thought paths at the neurological level and you will build a different “path” in your mind. In a more structured way, you can learn the steps to solve conflicts and use them intentionally with small, everyday conflicts until the new “path” becomes a thought-habit.
  • Heart: you can challenge your emotions when they arise by using meditation and mindfulness and by forcing yourself to see other aspects of the reality and allow you to experience different emotions towards these new “views”. For example, in all disaster and conflict there are perpetrators, but there are also helpers…where do you want to focus on?
  • Hands: you can try acting on this intentionally. An example would be what you do when something happens, or even acting before something happens: if you always respond in a certain way to another person’s behaviours, try a completely different approach and see what happens.

A note on conflict: while this course’s focus was on conflict with “others” (people), we know that most of the conflicts we have are with ourselves and with big issues happening “out there” for which may not have any control.

The reality is that we only have control (to a certain extent) over what we think, feel and do. We do not have control on others (not even children) and we don’t have control over many of the big decisions, systems, processes and predicaments happening in the world…but we are deeply affected by them.

But we do not live in isolation: we are all interconnected. So when you change yourself, other parts of the system change.

Try applying this cycle and awareness to big themes such as our Planet and its many ecosystems, climate change and even Permaculture.

How do you think your own awareness and relative “control” over your beliefs cycle (i.e. spiral or patterns) may influence in these “big themes”?

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