The Conflict Center believes that conflict is an opportunity to solve problems and build relationships. With the hate crimes last week and the harmful rhetoric during this election cycle, many of us are experiencing conflict in a considerable way. It shows up in the media, in discussions with friends and family, and can dominate conversations on social media. It’s easy to shut down or turn away from these types of interactions with others. They can be exhausting or feel too big to tackle.
However, at The Conflict Center, much of our work is focused on the small and ordinary things – our daily lives, personal spheres, the regular conversations and interactions we have in person and online. And we encourage you to live your values and speak your truth and use those regular interactions as opportunities to reach out and hold others accountable for their words or actions, while also seeking to understand them.
Social media is an interesting “place.” People we thought we knew share a racist meme, a hurtful comment or get into nasty arguments in the comment section. It is easy to simply shake our head, block, hide or unfriend. Or, alternatively, to get caught up and respond in kind. Typically, those responses are not in line with our values.
It is harder in those moments to live our values. We have seen a lot of calls for love, respect and kindness. All wonderful values that can turn into empty platitudes if we aren’t intentional. What does it look like to act our values and not just state them?
With restorative practices, one of our first questions is “what happened?” Then, we ask, “what is the impact?” These are questions that work well not just when a student breaks a rule at school, but in all aspects of our life when we want to hold someone accountable while also holding them in community. And we seek to hold someone in community not simply because it’s kind or seemingly altruistic, but because in community we are much more likely to be successful. To make change. To have an impact.
This is true in our online interactions as well. What would it look like to message someone and tell them about the harm their stereotypical meme had, rather than just block? What would happen if we engage in conversation as if the person who made hurtful remarks in the comments was at our dinner table? What if we asked more questions? What if we sought connection while speaking our truth?
This could look like:
– I would like to talk with you about the statement you made and share the impact it had on me.
– I can tell that this issue/candidate/stance is really important to you. I feel very strongly as well and I’d like to better understand.
– You seem very committed to that piece of information; what would it mean for you if that wasn’t true?
– I have known you a long time and am surprised to see you posted a meme that I perceive to spread racist ideas.
– I had a very strong reaction to what you posted; can you tell me what it means to you?
This isn’t always easy. And especially in cases when we, or a group we identify with, is the target of bias, bigotry or hurtful language. We may not have the emotional capacity, and/or it may not be safe to respond. However, when we witness this bigotry and see ourselves as allies, let us challenge ourselves to engage in ways which reflect our values and speak our truth.
Love. Dignity. Respect. Anti-racism. Our values are not something we simply profess. They are actions and a choice we make with every post, comment, like, forward and conversation.
When we do that, we turn conflict into an opportunity to make a difference in our world.
Executive Director, The Conflict Center