Conflict Resolution|Religion

Quakers and Conflict Transformation

Over the past 18 months I have been getting more and more involved with the “Conflict Transformation Committee” of the New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.  That’s like Quakers.  Like the oatmeal.  And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Quakers are pacifists — most of them anyway.  But they don’t shy away from conflict.  In fact, a core testimony of Friends is that “there is that of God in every person.”  So Quakers are urged to find the “Light” in their neighbor, and in themselves.  When the Light shines, Quakers have a tendancy to follow it.  And how.

Talk about party autonomy!  Here we have folks who are sure of their “leadings” and usually feel compelled to voice them.  There’s no Pope and no Priest so the “truth” is what the Meeting of Friends discern it to be.

And then there’s this Committee.  Its job is to be available to the various Meetings in the region, helping them to respond to conflicts in a way “that can support reconciliation and spiritual growth.”  The first step, of course, is to help a group to identify that they, indeed, may have a conflict they need to address.  The second is to transform that conflict into an opportunity for growth.

Now, I’m a business mediator and arbitrator.  I deal with fiduciaries who are charged with maximizing shareholder value.  In general, I have found that shareholder value is most immediately benefited by (1) minimizing outside legal bills and other costs of prolonged legal disputes by addressing problems early, and (2) reforming a troubled commercial relationship in order to make it more economically efficient, commercially rational and mutually beneficial.

But in business, nobody thinks they’ve been told what to do by God.  No one is divinely inspired.  (Well, there have been a few exceptions, but in general….)

This is going to be interesting.  Two principles seem to be inviolate in this context.  First, have absolute respect for the seed of the “leadings” giving rise to the conflict; they are, by Quaker tradition, divine.  Second, don’t fix it — transform it into an opportunity for growth.

Come to think of it, is that so different from what I usually do?  How about it?  Any thoughts?  Should be an interesting trip….!

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