You can experience conflict as a battle of wills, or you can experience it as a process of transformation.
Launching my career
Twelve years ago, around the time of the dot-com bust (2001), I got licensed as a Realtor in Austin Texas. I was an overly eager 19-year-old poised for fortunes in real estate. I did what all new Realtors do: make cold calls, hold open houses, and go to motivational seminars about turning lemons into lemonade, Fire-Aim-Ready, and 1 + 1 = 3.
Stopping in my tracks
Six years later I was not only not making a fortune, but undergoing an existential crisis about land ownership: is it real or not. The idea that we can own anything seems a little bit like make-believe in the grand scheme of earth’s history.
So how can I be in a business that is all illusion? Around the globe and throughout history there are examples of humans inhabiting the land in ways that don’t involve a legal understanding of ownership, and honestly they seem more harmonious to me,
“But how can you buy or sell the sky? the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?…Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people…”-Chief Seattle (A letter to Washington DC*)
After wrestling with this problem for several years I arrived at the simple conclusion:
Everyone needs a place to live, and despite your circumstances you can always make the best of it.
To some the system of land ownership is a prison, to others an expression of freedom. Either way we all carry the potential to make meaningful choices in the midst of this.
Prioritizing community over profit.
Great business plan right?
Changing my priorities meant living with unanswerable questions. And one of them became pivotal for me, and continues to shape my life today:
How do you live a life of community in a culture that isolates and disconnects?
In my quest for solutions an unavoidable hurdle kept emerging: wherever people are, there is conflict. And who really wants conflict anyways? Few of us were ever taught how to handle it well, and most of us just adopted whatever unhealthy rituals our parents enacted—or equally unhelpful ones from TV.
It dawned on me: If I’m ever going to be a “community building” expert I need to have some tools for conflict.
I remember my mom telling me something to the effect, “Rigel, you’re a peaceful guy have you considered conflict resolution?”
And that is what lead me to the Austin Dispute Resolution Center (ADRC). The ADRC has a 40 hour intensive mediation training course introducing their 7 step conflict resolution process.
I took the course, and it opened my mind to a new way of understanding conflict. I came to understand it as a potential doorway to deeper communication and transformation. It’s not painless, but working through the process can bring healing to a broken situation. I walked away with a set of tools in how to do that.
Conflict and community go hand-in-hand.
In the beginning I was afraid to face differences between myself and others–resolving conflict was more about smoothing things over than anything else. When I took the course I learned ways to cultivate a safe environment for conflict to happen in my own life, and in others.
But my first step was admitting that I wasn’t good at it–and might be your first step too.
How does conflict happen, or not happen in your life?
In future blog posts I will go into detail of the 7 step conflict-resolution process taught through ADRC, and other resources. I also hope to connect ways to apply the principles of conflict resolution to my business, and neighborhood involvement.
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*There is some debate as to whether Chief Seattle actually said these words or not.