Respect Amid Conflict

This is not about Russia and Ukraine. Or is it? You decide.

I find myself in the middle of a conflict. A group I joined several years ago, a haven of peacefulness and mutual support, has encountered a situation that has created disagreement, discomfort, and discord among its members. I’m not going to identify this group or describe the conflict in detail. Still, I will say that the situation developed gradually, in response to the conditions of COVID, without any malintent on the part of anyone.

As with most conflicts, some members are on either end of the spectrum of opinion, and others cluster near the middle. Possibly there are some able and willing to change their behavior to accommodate others, and some unwilling or unable to do so. Some identify their needs as vital and urgent, and others, without strong feelings, are willing to go along with a range of possible outcomes.

The group has a tradition of consensual decision-making. The decision we make will determine the survival of the group and its future incarnation. So, with the best of intentions on everyone’s part, we have entered into a careful, measured process. Our approach involves the honest but gentle expression of feelings and attitudes, listening carefully to each member’s views, trying to understand all perspectives, and seeking a consensus about moving forward. We are encouraged to speak truthfully, listen compassionately, and keep an open mind and heart—hallmarks and essential characteristics of respect.

As I’ve reflected on the conflict, my reaction to it, and the thoughts and feelings of my fellow group members, two dimensions crucial to the consensus-seeking process have stood out for me. First is the vital importance of digging deep inside my own heart to recognize my motivations. Depending on what I discover, this recognition might be comfortable or not, but I owe it to myself and the group out of respect for us all. Second, understanding others. A group member so aptly expressed this as walking in the other’s shoes.

 As I’ve listened to group members describe their experience and express their feelings, I’ve “felt their pain,” so to speak. And, understanding their discomfort, even suffering, I see them as worthy of respect. Therefore, I wish that I might do whatever is possible to ease their distress without abandoning my essential needs. A sense of flexibility and generosity has arisen from trying to see the situation from the perspective of others.

However, by relentless examination of my motivations, I’ve discovered that, while there are some compromises I am happy to make, I draw the line at one accommodation, which I cannot adopt for my well-being. Yet, there is an enormous amount of fertile space between my one need and the needs of others.

I don’t know whether we will reach a consensus or what the outcome of the decision-making process will be. I am trying to stay in it, moment by moment, without predicting or prejudging, and with as much respect for myself and the other group members as I can muster. I am trying to let go of the less important, my need to be understood, and the ridiculous notion that my viewpoint is the complete one. I’m trying to embrace the idea that neither the current situation nor its outcome is static, that everything and everyone are changing all the time.

So, I re-iterate, this short reflection on respect amid conflict is not remotely related to the situation between Ukraine and Russia. Right? The aggression, violence, and impacts are wildly disproportionate in the two circumstances. But I wonder if there is any predicament, however grave, that cannot benefit from sincere self-examination and the attempt to understand the perspective of others—respect.