Sunday, 13 January 2013

Conflict? Bring it on!

At the start of each term we have an opportunity to study a practical topic in depth for a full week. This is such a luxury in an environment where everything is so fast paced and term very quickly turns you into a mini essay factory. I spent the last week learning about Conflict Transformation. I wasn't sure what to expect. I feared a lot of awkward role plays but hoped I would pick up some tips for coping with the inevitable differences of opinion that come up all the time in life. What I didn't expect was to spend a week having my way of thinking utterly challenged and to emerge seeing things in a new way, but that is what happened.

The course itself was based around a theory called 'IC Thinking'. You can see more about it on this website if you are interested and there are a number of good books available too through that link which explain it all in a bit more detail. The basic idea is that to have 'low IC' you see the world in black and white. In a conflict different groups form quickly and soon become entrenched. The other party is dehumanized. As the conflict escalates so does the feeling of 'them' and 'us'. Trust is broken down, communication fails. It seems there is absolutely no common ground between you. Sound familiar?

Though often undesirable this is all perfectly natural as when we are in a conflict situation the blood flood to the limbic region of our brain, the fight or flight bit, and we are literally on alert for our very survival. The trouble is in most conflict situations we meet our survival really isn't at stake and by the blood being diverted in this way it is taken away from the parts of our brain which do our higher level thinking and processing. We are biologically less able to be reasonable until we calm down. It all makes an alarming amount of sense, doesn't it?! IC thinking aims to raise our thinking out of the black and white, to see our shared values and work towards a solution that has something for everyone. It's being used with young Muslim men living in Britain who are experiencing a major world view clash. 
From the IC Thinking website
What I found most liberating about the process was an exercise we did where we were asked to stand on a line somewhere between two values which were in many ways opposite of each other but both good in their own ways. It suddenly dawned on me that I can't hold all values. I have a stance. I hang about the 'equality and freedom' end but does that mean there is no value in 'tradition and hierarchy'? Having the confidence to stand where I stand, to own that and to see that others stand elsewhere and that is ok too was a real lightning bolt moment for me.

One of the underlying principles of the course was that conflict need not be seen negatively. It can be a gift. Encountering other views challenges and widens my own. Seeing where my values cross over with those who are very different from me is enlightening. And it's all just more human. Rather than making anyone who thinks differently to me into the 'other' I can hear their view and I can even disagree but defend their right to exist and hold that view just as I defend the right to hold mine. Differences of opinion need not make us enemies. We do share common ground.

I'm taking away from this week the genuine, scientifically proven benefits of taking a couple of minutes to breath in tense situations. I will be doing a lot more of that totally guilt free! I'm taking away a desire to find links between my values and others, to resist the natural urge to compartmentalize others and their views. And I'm taking away new found confidence about where I stand on these things and a new sense of kindness to myself in that. Everyone stands somewhere, I stand here.
What a brilliant week!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Nicola. I'm not sure this themed study week is an option we part-timers get offered, but I'm struggling to learn that I need to own where I stand on some issues, and knowing that nothing in this world is black and white, is part of that. I shall take time later in the week to look at the website you've linked to, thank you.