I grew up the son of Mennonite missionary parents. Mennonites are a protestant denomination known for their work in peace and nonviolent conflict resolution. The early messages I received growing up were, “Turn the other cheek,” or “Find another way to solve your problem without resorting to violence.” My parents dedicated their lives to building more peaceful and compassionate relationships. I respect and admire them immensely. And I’ve always struggled to reconcile this philosophy with reality.
My formal education includes a PhD in clinical psychology, certification as a conflict mediator, and advanced training in communication models to reduce conflict. I’m no stranger to conflict, having grown up in Botswana, a country neighboring South Africa during apartheid, worked in addictions treatment and marital counseling, and for the past 13 years working with executive leaders who often have a very distorted view of what conflict is and how to handle it.
Peace is NOT the absence of conflict
Here’s what I’ve learned. Don’t confuse peace with tranquility. Don’t confuse lack of shouting with the absence of conflict. I’ve experienced many families, churches, and organizations who claim to be peaceful just because they don’t raise their voices and they “agree to disagree.” Yet the amount of violence in these communities rivals a war zone. Passive-aggressive gossip, manipulation, avoidance, withholding information, bullying and power plays are the rules of the game.
Peace is an active, dynamic, and generative process that requires healthy conflict. If peace means we are getting along, cooperating, and not hurting each other, then we can’t get there without addressing our differences and disagreements. Diversity was built into the universe from the beginning. Embracing and working with it is the only way towards peace, and this requires conflict.
Things to ponder:
- What did you learn about conflict growing up? Who were your role-models?
- What is your definition of peace?
- What’s your perspective on my claim that peace requires healthy conflict?
- What if one purpose of diversity is to cause conflict, which creates energy? What could that mean?