Monday, June 17, 2013

Learning to work with conflict: Just do it!

I am often approach by participants in training workshops who want to talk about their future. They talk about a deep passion to transform destructive conflict somewhere on this planet. 

They usually ask me how I got involved in this field and what they should do to improve their skills.The one point that almost everyone raises is: Where can I learn how to facilitate/mediate?  The conversation inevitably touches on the bizarre phenomenon that while there are plenty academic courses on conflict studies (except, surprisingly, in South Africa), there are very few opportunities for young inexperienced practitioners to get practical hands-on experience. 

The courses that my colleagues and I facilitate provide these rare kind of the opportunities for people to experiment, practice skills and make mistakes in a safe space. People find the methodology, process and contents very inspiring and then they are fired up to make a difference. Discovering how relatively easy it is to dream about possibilities they also begin to believe that they, too, can play a role to shift relationships and create new options for creative responses. 

You don't need to be a psychiatrist to see the spark in their eyes and the spring in their steps. But you also sense that self-doubt and inspiration are often dance partners.  It's like they are on a bicycle where the left leg does the "I want to..." and the right leg does the "Will I be able to...?" cycles. 

The key is not to wait until you're good enough. It will be hard at first, but practice makes possible. 

So here's an excerpt of an email that I recently wrote to a group who attended a course on mediation and dialogue: 

Dear friends and colleagues,

I look back at the past week in Sandö with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. I learned so much from you all and have enjoyed the week tremendously. May we all continue to unfold and grow into our fullest potential, exploring the unexplored, and serving others like a fountain that never runs dry. 

Please do not wait to apply and practice what you have learned because you feel you are good enough. Yehudi Menuhin, the great violinist once said: "There is no such thing as learning how to play a violin. You play a violin and by playing you keep getting better at it." 

So here's my wish for you: Just play, and while you play, listen deeply to how others play. There is no sense in playing when your instrument is not tuned in to others, so listening is our most important skill that we need to improve—not talking! 

Soon the music of peace will fill the world and people will sing instead of cry. They will dance with joy instead of die from hunger, poverty and displacement. Just play and play and play. 

Soon after this email, a Nepali participant replied: 

Dear Chris

Thank you so much for the inspiring email. Indeed the Sando training was a great learning experience. The exchange in Sando motivated me to further dig into what Adam Kahane said ‘the mystery is that we cannot know the future, we can investigate it and influence it, but we cannot calculate it or control it’. As the ‘investigation’ goes along I will continue ‘tune my violin with others’.

It is practice that makes the difference, not trying. Can you hear people tuning their instruments?