by Raven Glomus
Let me start by admitting that I am a conflict avoider. I’m scared of conflict and would rather that it didn’t happen. But the reality is it does happen, and often, and it needs to be dealt with or it can destroy a community.
A community that I helped build in the nineteen-nineties fell apart and it was partly due to ongoing and poorly dealt with conflict. Years later, I was talking with one of the folks I built the community with and he said to me, “Didn’t you see all the conflicts happening?”
I said, “Yes, I did but I thought that if I ignored them, they would go away.” Here’s the first thing you need to know about dealing with conflict: ignoring it or denying that it’s happening, doesn’t work and often makes things worse.
A better way of putting this is that the first thing you need to do to deal with conflict in community is to point it out (if no one is talking about it) and say that it needs to be addressed by the group. Even if it seems like a private thing between two people, if they are not able to resolve it, it will affect the whole community.
I don’t have all the answers about how to deal with conflict. I know that there are numerous seminars on how to make conflict a constructive force. I haven’t taken any of them. I just know that I’ve learned a few things in the years since that first community collapsed and I will share what I’ve learned here in case other folks in community can benefit.
The first, again, is to point out and address the conflict as a group. The second is something that folks need to do, hopefully before conflict happens.
What I’ve seen is that groups where members have made serious commitments to each other, do better when conflict arises. Ganas, which is not an egalitarian community but I lived in and has an interesting approach to conflict, almost attracts conflict. More than occasionally in the morning meetings that I attended, arguments erupted and were encouraged. I’m not saying this approach works, but what was most interesting is that often folks that were literally screaming at each other in the meeting were later working together. Ganas has been doing this for more than forty years and it is still continuing on. I am convinced that the reason that they survive is that the core group has made long-term commitments to each other that holds them together in spite of serious disagreements.
At Glomus Commune, where I now live, we have gone through some fairly strong disagreements, particularly during the height of COVID, where folks had very different ideas about how to keep the community safe. What was impressive to me was to see people who argued intensively during meetings, getting close with each other afterwards and making it clear that they really cared about each other even if they disagreed.
A third thing that can be useful in situations of conflict is getting a mediator involved. If the situation is simply between two people in the community, if there is someone else in the community, skilled in mediation, they can be very helpful. If the situation involves more people or there is no one skilled within the group, bringing in an outside mediator may be what’s required. I know that after that first community collapsed, one of the people I lived with suggested that if we had brought in a mediator, the community might have survived.
I’m sure that there are more useful tools for dealing with communal conflicts and, if you know of some, I’d love to hear about it, but I wanted to at least put out what I know in the hopes that it might help some other communities that find themselves in conflict and at a loss for what to do.