Max: So for instance… what do you feel should happen when people disagree with one another? What is our scenario?
Jim: What happens when people disagree with one another? I think what would happen, Max, is conversation. There is a beautiful section in the very beginning of Ignatius of Loyola’s exercises where he says that grieving people should have a positive attitude toward each other. If one of them says something that seems strange, then the person should ask, could the person better explain it so that the first person would understand? Hopefully, they would work out their misunderstanding which could be just a matter of words.
If they still can’t get it clear, he suggests getting a couple of friends and saying, We’re trying to talk about this and we’re having understanding. Can you help us? And the friends would try to do that.
If there is still a misunderstanding, we’d say, let’s go to a teacher or let’s go to a wise person or let’s go to somebody who maybe we don’t know personally but is very good at getting answers.
And if still there turned out to be a difference, and it could be a serious difference, it could even be that we feel we need to go officially to the court and to ask the judge to listen to our case and tell us what he thinks is the right answer, and we would be willing to go with whatever that answer is.
That’s a way of saying that communication is very important between people in contact with each other. The hope is, it’s good when people can explain themselves to each other and remain friends, and in fact better friends.
That’s one answer i would have for what happens when there is a difference of opinion.
Max: I really like the subject of conflict resolution, but I like approaching it from a standpoint where perhaps we don’t need to end up in the conflict first and then resolve it; perhaps there are ways of getting ahead of conflict by having better conversations in communities.
Max: One resource that I was stunned by in a very good way is from a man whose name is Thich Nhat Hanh who lives in a place called Plum Village which I think is in Vietnam. He is a Buddhist monk. I don’t know a lot about it, but monks live there, and people go there for mindfulness retreats. They do lots of other things.
They have a document on the Internet I have found a few times that is a ‘conflict resolution in community’ document. What they describe that was so resonant for me when I discovered it, I think maybe in 2014 or something… It describes how two individuals who have a conflict join the whole community in the same space, and each one of them speaks to the community. The community is not judging them; the community isn’t there to pass judgement on them. The community is there to support and love both of them, and listen and understand what each of them has experienced so that it can be possible to have a supportive conversation about it rather than a worse conflict, or maybe rather than a conflict at all.
I really thought that was amazing when I found it. When I looked for other instances of that in the world, I couldn’t find them. It seemed like people weren’t doing that kind of thing, they were fighting instead.
The only other major resource I found that was kind of like that was by a woman in Chicago who writes about transformational justice. Her name is Mariame Kaba. I had not heard someone speak extensively about transformational justice before but it seems to me very similar to that very compassionate Plum Village approach in certain ways. I wonder if you have thoughts on those things.
Jim: Yeah I do, I do.
I guess there are two main thoughts.
One would be to return to Ignatius of Loyola again and something that he calls ‘communal discernment.’ It’s a decision that a group has to make; rather than getting into an argument about it, they agree that they will ask a series of questions to try to gradually come to a clarity based on the agreement not of the majority or in the sense of a vote (like 5 to 4) but a thorough approach in peace and clarity about the question so that they would come gradually to a common answer.
Now, the question that they ask is not so much ‘What do I want our answer to be?’ but ‘What do I think God wants our answer to be?’ This takes it from the realm of particular interest to a more global, more thorough and integrated answer to what the group is looking for.
It’s a common sharing, not to push my position but to listen together to what is the greater good. What is the more integrated, more peace-bringing decision.
That’s the first piece I would say.
The second one would be more a comparing two reactions to this virus that we are all dealing with.
Max: The coronavirus — excuse me, the novel coronavirus.
Jim: The first one is a report that in Atlanta, Georgia there have been three times the number of weapons sold than is usually the case.
Max: Because of the coronavirus? Is that what you’re saying?
The second answer is that when people were told that they were supposed to stay in their homes as much as possible, a lady in her mid-to-late twenties announced that she had a car and that she would be willing if people needed things like food she could go to the store for them and purchase and bring it back, and people could pay them for what it was, the person who could not get out of the house or the older person without the normal meal could be helped.
When that announcement got around, there were about a dozen other people who said Yeah, I could help that way too!
So my second response is in terms of not getting into using a weapon to take food from other people, but to use an automobile and time and good will to reach out and help another person as a sign of a living and life-giving community relationship.
There are my two answers as I understood your question.
Max: There are these different ways for us to think about the options we have.
I can think of other reasons that people would be buying guns. Like if they thought they may need to hunt for their own food; if they thought they may need to protect themselves from people trying to steal what they have. It can be very fearful what people are dealing with right now.
Jim: As we look at it, that seems to be a reaction of many people; we get whatever it is we want and we don’t care about other people; we’re going to make them afraid of us so we can get all the more what we want.
Max: It seems to me that happens when people feel that someone more powerful than them is behaving that way towards them, and they are protecting themselves by being willing to do those things also.
Jim: I think it’s not so much the weaker person trying to protect herself as much as it is the stronger person becoming more strong against the weaker person. It’s a push for power that people want to exercise in times of difficulty, confusion, difference, and argumentation.
Max: It’s a terrible feeling to feel like something outside you has power to not care about you or to make you suffer, and then the person decides to try and have power themselves… I think we’ve had the conversation before about “power over” versus “power with”… power over one another or power with one another, power in strength with one another…?
Jim: Yes. And the idea is not to exercise power as a threat but to exercise power as a gift.
Max: Oh! I’m sorry. That made me exclaim. I don’t think we’ve talked about it in that way before. I appreciate that a lot. POWER AS A GIFT I think is a wonderful phrase.
Jim: Well if we go back to the young lady with the automobile offering to use the power she has for the well being of other people, I think that what she’s doing making a gift of her power, and in doing so extending the community, and therefore multiplying the gift — that would be the other people who say, I live in the neighborhood with a lot of elderly and sick people who cannot get to the store to get what they need, I will be glad to do that.
So there’s more energy and more presence and more power in that community.
Max: When we talk about POWER AS A GIFT, do you know what I think of?
Jim: Tell me.
Max: Our conversation about baking bread! That’s what I think of because all of the tiny little microbes in the sourdough help the bread be most nourishing. They help the nutrients be most bioavailable to the body. Baking bread, the bread itself is a collective organism made up of so many tiny tiny microbes that make the bread most nourishing to a person.
There is a power in it. There is a gift in it. And for me it feels like a better version of what when I was a kid I would think of as a power plant, an electrical plant.
When I think about POWER AS A GIFT, I think about collective life energy that brings more than seems the sum of its parts.
Jim: What you make me think of when you bring the subject of bread up is a observation by a man who traveled very frequently to Soviet Russia from the United States. He said every time he came into Moscow and got off the airplane, he felt as if he was coming into a house where bread was being baked… as compared to where he had left in the United States.
In other words, the contact with the people that he met was more like that sharing of concern that you speak about in a power plant or in the baking of bread. Again, it’s the question of the greater good; I am not looking just for my own selfish interests but trying to live in a way that would make room for other people; not that I would have less, but that all of us would have more.
We would have each other’s good will.