Stay! Stay! Stay!November 25, 2009 Leave a comment
I’ve recently been reading Bernie Mayer‘s new and game-changing book, Staying With Conflict.? A frequent leader in the world of conflict engagement, Bernie Mayer has spent many years working on large scale collaborative change and conflict processes, many of them in the environmental field. He is also a strong proponent of the need to be clear and transparent about the assumptions behind practice. With John Paul Lederach and Leah Wing, Bernie Mayer is one of my favorite practitioners and thought leaders in the “conflict resolution” world.? A couple of years ago, Bernie came out with a book called Beyond Neutrality that loudly and strongly asked for those in the conflict engagement field and those facilitating collaborative processes to cease and desist with the concept that we practice as “third party neutrals.”? In this new book, Bernie is pushing forward, changing the basic understanding of “conflict resolution.” He calls us to understand that, in fact, much of what is needed is not resolution, is not decision-making, agreement-building to overcome deep seated conflicts, but rather approaches that help people build the adaptive capacity and platforms from which to act – to stay with the tensions and conflicts that are an essential part of the human experience, to engage in a way that brings human dignity and that allows us to really stay in the difference.
There are necessary and important tensions and conflicts, the checks and balances of life. As a reformed/reforming “fixer”, this is a challenging place for me to be. And so, Mayer says, it is critical that we learn to “stay” – to be fully and productively engaged in these conflicts. This is another piece in the puzzle about what it takes to make adaptive change. What Mayer is talking about is not jumping to finding the easy agreements or the quick fixes to problems, but to really spend time in the messy morass and build the respect for differences necessary for real and humiliation-free engagement with enduring conflicts.
Not to draw too loose a link, but I am personally intrigued by this notion of the importance of staying – of being willing to be in the midst of the uncomfortableness of accepting the enduring nature of many conflicts and examine, within that frame, what actions we can take that speak to honesty, integrity and compassion. There is, in this notion, a similarity to the Buddhist practice of staying in uncertainty, being in the midst of our challenges and breathing – creating some space and becoming less attached to the outcome. Not an easy practice, but quite a transformative one.
So today I’m wondering, what kinds of situations have you learned to “stay” in?