Conflict and Love
by Stan Siver
Eight years ago I walked out of the boardroom of the company I worked for muttering, "Life's too short," and, "This is killing me!"
years ago I walked out of the boardroom of the company I worked
for muttering, "Life's too short," and, "This is
killing me!" I'd somehow "survived" five years
in a high stress, emotionally exhausting, and totally dysfunctional
organization, reached what was certainly the pinnacle of my career,
and cratered. That I'd lasted that long before burning out is
more due to my ignorance than to my strength. That I'd left is
more testament to divine intervention than to any personal wisdom
on my part.
hindsight, I can see how the individual and collective energies
of each of us in the organization were all focused on the tasks
and goals typical of any main-stream profit-oriented organization
in America. What we weren't focusing on was the emotional environment
we were co-creating, the affect of that environment on our relationships
(inside and beyond the organization), and the impact on our health.
It is amazing to me, in retrospect, how narrow we allowed our
vision to become as we slowly split off access to our own emotions
and intuition in order to survive the trauma of the emotionally
toxic environment. This isn't new. People do it everyday all over
the world, in the name of workplace productivity or some equally
totally lost, I went to see a therapist to begin the work of understanding
what I had just been through, and to see why I had been willing
to participate in something so toxic. I initially found it difficult,
basically impossible, to find a therapist who was able to be supportive
or understanding of workplace trauma. I was offered prescribed
programs for what I should do. Eventually that psychological investigation
led me to process work and to an experience that all of this had
happened for a reason that I could finally begin to understand.
I became a client, then a process work student, eventually started
working with others and recently began work on a doctorate in
the psychology of social conflict.
back through the lens of six years of study of process oriented
psycho-logy and conflict facilitation, I can see a wealth of rich
opportunity for greater awareness and intimate relatedness inside
of the conflicts that I experienced in that job at that time.
My aversion to noticing and naming conflict was what prevented
me from dealing with it in a more loving and creative way. I didn't
yet have the tools to do this. Socially speaking, our way of doing
things makes it hard to notice and name conflict publicly. And
bosses do have a habit of firing you if you do that in the workplace.
We're not yet open to discussion of rank and power issues, especially
at work. Face it, we currently don't have the openness in our
lives, or a forum where it's safe to get that real.
Centuries before Christ, Plato wrote, "We can easily forgive
a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is
when men [and women] are afraid of the light." I can't imagine
that Plato meant this only to refer to spiritual enlightenment
in a religious sense. On the contrary, Plato expanded his own
critical consciousness in relationship to the social problems
he saw around him. He was effective in his society, and he was
greatly aided by a social institution that I have become quite
Greece, the cultural birthplace of western civilization, had something
called a forum, a space for public expression. Such a forum was
truly open to diversity of thought, feeling, intuition, values,
communication styles, dreaming, spirituality and diverse metaphysical
realities. In other words, it was a place where people felt safe
to passionately express themselves.
need to revive the institution. A forum today would be especially
valuable for the expression of those views not supported by the
mainstream; those emotions that are often silenced, or sensationalized
and pathologized, by the media, parliamentary procedure, or anyone
else who happens to disagree.
Fuller, one of the great minds of the last century, supported
this idea. He said we need to support the intuitive wisdom and
comprehensive informed-ness of each and every individual to ensure
our continued fitness for survival as a species. Fuller's notion
of this being a critical path element in our survival mirrored
that of Plato 2500 years earlier, when he wrote that Athens needed
the intelligence of all and couldn't afford not to accept women
as thinkers and leaders. Even if Plato didn't expand his thinking
enough to extend that acceptance to other classes and races, he
planted a cultural seed that took another twenty five hundred
years to sprout, and is only now coming to fruition in culturally
Margaret Mead had a vision in the final hours of her life that
she shared with her friend and former student Jean Houston. Her
vision was about the survival of the world through establishment
of teaching-learning communities in which people gathered in small
groups on a regular basis, in homes, schools, churches, and businesses.
She saw these people in dialogue, taking their learning and conclusions
into social action. In short, forums.
Democracy & Human Survival
I hope that Oregon as a community will re-create this ancient
social institution, thus developing a more effective way of dealing
with complex social issues, and bridging the gap between psychology
and social action, and public and private interests. A modern
forum would be patterned after our own unique culture, and work
on developing an emotionally and environmentally sustainable community.
I envision bringing forums into government, businesses, schools,
and the broader community.
goal of open forums is to bring together people representing the
entire spectrum of opinion on an issuemaking space for all
voices to be heard while facilitating a dialogue between them.
All voices are a valued part of the whole and need to be expressed
and heard if we are to create a sustainable multi-cultural community.
Mindell, a leading experimenter with social forums, says, "The
basic idea of [a forum] is to promote awareness and respect people
and nature, to treat every moment as precious and to consider
each and every event from as many sides as may be present, while
protecting those with least power."
may not personally agree with someone's position. But if I don't
support them to express it, am I not helping to create a situation
where they have to resort to emotional or physical terrorism to
be heard? I am convinced that, behind the most rageful views and
hateful actions, there is a basic human fear that needs to be
freely expressed, understood and creatively supported. Only in
the free exchange of opinions, fears and ideas can creative and
positive change occur. A social forum is inherently democratic.
One challenge in practicing deep democracy lies in developing
the skill and awareness to facilitate interactions between people
in a way that is somehow lovingly supportive of all parties. In
Sitting in the Fire: Large Group Transformation Using Conflict
and Diversity (Lao Tse Press, 1995), Arnold Mindell writes about
this process of personal development, about the skills needed
to facilitate emotional group processes, and about the development
of eldership. "Eldership grows, in part, from having experienced
the issues yourself, having known yourself as both victim and
oppressor. What remains when the fire of your own desire for revenge
has burned low is a sort of soothing cool that relieves everyone.
It doesn't patronize. It expects only those who can to make the
shift in consciousness from conflict to insight. Elders themselves
have made the leap from one-sidedness to compassion."
Mindell says of the individual is equally true for society. Far
from being one-sided, a forum is an inherently compassionate place
of listening and solution-building.
to an Open Forum
I'm writing about this because, amongst the many conflicts before
us at this time, there is one that particularly concerns me: Measure
9, the "Student Protection Act." It touches me because
I am concerned for our children, I am concerned for the suffering
of so many gay and lesbian people, and I am concerned for the
Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA). Ultimately I am concerned that
our efforts to find a solution respect the complex ways citizens
must interact in order to resolve this seemingly irresolvable
that end, the Global Process Institute (GPI), a non profit organization
based in Portland and comprised of facilitators experienced in
social conflict forums, is sponsoring an Open Forum to be held
on October 2nd, at 7pm, in the ballroom of the Portland Conference
Center. Members of the OCA, other Christian and religious organizations,
gay and lesbian organizations, government, media, parents, teachers,
teens and the general public are welcomed. There is no fee for
admission. The organizers and facilitators are volunteering their
time, and the Portland Conference Center is virtually donating
the space, to support this interaction in the hopes of building
greater awareness and stronger ties in our community. (For further
information please contact GPI at 503-239-6811).
Conflict is inevitable in a multicultural society. But it wasn't
the conflict that burned me out in that job long agoit was
my aversion to noticing and naming it; it was my inability to
find creative solutions. A public forum-an openness to the experience
of others-in the workplace would have gone a long way toward solving
that situation then. In this current situation, with the stakes
much higher, it's imperative that we open this dialogue in our
community, deeply hear the experience of others, and find those
Siver is a process worker, facilitator, writer, and sailor,
currently studying process work at the Process Work Center of
Portland, and working on a doctorate in the psychology of social
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