Whenever it’s my turn to write this column, I always try to think of a theme for the previous week; some kind of uniting idea or concept always makes it easier for me to decide what to write about, and I imagine that it also makes it easier for readers to follow the random events of my life and life in the village. Well, I’ve looked back on the week, and there is one clear theme that unites the past seven days: conflict.
Christina here, writing about disagreements, hurt feelings, and why I think conflict is so great. I am currently on two different committees that deal with conflict, and I spent a total of almost eight hours last week in meetings either talking about conflict, planning to talk about conflict, or directly listening to and talking to people in conflict.
I also spent many many hours dealing with conflict in my own life — from the appropriate number of spaghetti squash seeds to start for our garden, to whether or not math flashcards are necessary, to how much I want to think about worst case scenarios for the future of the village.
There is plenty of conflict at home, and of course I am perpetually and peripherally aware of conflicts that are happening all around me right now. But something that I am learning is that it has been a great week, not in spite of all that conflict, but perhaps even because of it.
I mean, sure, a life without conflict sounds awesome, and I have to admit that the times that I’m not in conflict with someone I care about are much nicer and easier than the times when I am. A life without conflict would mean that everyone always does whatever I want all the time. It sounds wonderful, right? But given how much I still have to learn about life, and how clueless I can be at times about what’s the right course of action, it’s actually a pretty terrible idea. A life without conflict would also mean that things always go the way that I want them to go, and given this random universe that we inhabit, that’s not exactly a realistic expectation either.
In my last column, I wrote about learning that sharing my needs with friends and neighbors has brought me closer to them. Since we all have the same needs — for trust, or respect, or to be heard, or to contribute — when we express those needs to one another, we realize that we have more in common than we thought.
I am also learning how conflict can bring us closer. I am very much a beginner when it comes to this kind of thing; forty years spent avoiding differences of opinion, angry voices, and hurt feelings means that I have a lot to unlearn, but here’s a bit about what I am working on understanding and living in my own life: I’m learning that conflict happens when people have clashing strategies for getting their needs met.
For example, I might have a need for order and calm, and the strategy that I use for getting that need met is asking everyone to get their dirty dishes off the table right this instant. However, this strategy might clash with my kids’ need for creativity and artistic expression, as well as their strategy for getting that need met, which is to create recycled styrofoam boats, green-dyed homemade slime, and popsicle stick catapults on the kitchen table. We both have needs, and we both have strategies for getting our needs met, but until we recognize those needs in one another and figure out a plan that works for everyone, we won’t get anyone’s needs met. I might have a need — security in my home, or acceptance from my neighbors, for example — and my strategy for getting those needs met might clash with your strategy for meeting those exact same needs. Until we get together in person to talk things out, we will likely continue to struggle without success.
Another lesson that I work to teach myself every day is that seeing the other person, or myself, as bad or wrong for having a conflicting strategy doesn’t do me any good, even though that might be what I have been taught to believe for my whole life. Conflict will be there no matter what; blaming, or accusing, or somehow trying to make things the other person’s fault, really just makes me feel worse.
At the beginning of this column, I said that I would talk about why I think conflict is great, and I guess if you’ve read this far, you’re eagerly awaiting my wisdom on the topic. I have to admit that conflict is still really hard, and stressful, and exhausting for me, so I also need a reminder of how it might actually make my life better, but here are all the ways that conflict has improved my life this week:
- I spent a pleasant hour connecting with a friend, who I haven’t talked to much in the past few months.
- I got to know fellow committee members on a deeper level.
- I strengthened my listening and patience skills, and spent more time on the phone talking to family than I usually do.
- I got a better understanding of what I value, what’s important to me, and why.
- I learned to appreciate my kids’ creativity and inventiveness a little more.
- I got a clean(er) house, eventually.
Living in community has given me so many opportunities to grow and learn, whether I wanted to or not. Sometimes I get tired of learning and wish that things could just be easy for a while, but in the end, I always appreciate my home here and all the ways that living at Dancing Rabbit has challenged me to become a better person.
If you’re eager to challenge yourself to become a better person, visiting our village could be a great way to learn some new strategies that can enhance your life in a wide variety of ways. Over the course of your two-week stay, you will have a chance to see how we at Dancing Rabbit adjust our lives in order to live more sustainably, as well as how you can take some of those practices home with you. You will also get a glimpse at what some of us call inner sustainability: striving to live in social harmony with our neighbors by resolving conflict, adopting language for communicating nonviolently, and learning how to see each of the threads in a complex tapestry of needs and the strategies people use for meeting those needs. There will be plenty of delicious homemade food along the way, as well as time for fun, relaxing in nature, and so much more. Register today, and take another step on your journey to becoming a better person.