The gift of conflict: lessons about separateness and interconnectedness

My work puts me in contact with the effects of sustained conflict. I watch conflict in my own life quite closely too. I see the tangible - and at times devastating- effects on people's psyche and bodies of disharmony with others. I work in quite different contexts, and yet it has been striking me how common this suffering caused by separation is. In every case and every context, what seems common is a deep desire to get along (and do so with ease), to have harmony. This pull to be connected lives together with another set of deep desires: to be ourselves, to have autonomy and to be seen, valued and cherished in our individuality.

Being our own individual selves and being in relationship with each other, this is the dance of interconnectedness for me.

These are core human longings, and they play a crucial part in our sense of thriving in the world. They are there to guide what Gandhi and others have called "right action," or non-violent action. They are there to help guide us towards a fulfilling life lived with responsibility.

The emotional effects of not having these core longings met seem profoundly disturbing and counter to a high quality of life. There seems to be a close tie between the quality of our relationships and our connectedness to others, and the degree of our sense of wellbeing in our life.

I am also struck by how universally people have good intentions, even when our actions or words have unwelcome effects on others. We seem to universally want to be a contribution to others and we suffer so much when our good intentions are not seen, as well as when our own actions do not line up with our own values (oftentimes out of unawareness of not knowing how).

Sadly, and despite the solution seeming so simple when one practices NVC, I find that so many of us have not had a chance to learn the most basic skills of self-awareness of our emotional world, of balanced responsibility in relationships with the clarity to tend to what is mine and to know what I better leave for others to take responsibility for. There is a healthy dance in relationships of connecting communication, of giving and taking, of caring for ourselves equally to others, of exploring our assumptions and prioritising compassion and connectedness. I am an active learner of this dynamic and suspect will be for life.

I also have the rare and incredible fortune to be in contact with children and young people who have been brought up free to express their emotions and in an environment that fosters values and behaviours of interconnectedness, expressing one's feelings, caring for oneself and others, autonomy in choosing one's actions with the accountability to see and care for their consequences.

Seeing how these younger people grow up with more awareness of their feelings and needs, more willing to speak up for them and to take others into account in their decisions fills me with hope for world peace and richer and easier relationships.

For me, conflict is a sign that something in the dynamic can improve, it provides rich information to move forward in more harmonious ways. Staying on the path of nonviolence means being willing to go into conflict despite its discomfort. It means continuing to have intentions to contribute to others with compassion, also doing the same for myself. It means being willing to look inwards and see my own patterns of thought that don't serve these aims- and to play with my interpretations, loosening my grip on what seems "right" or "true" and incorporating other points of view. It means going into conflict daily with the willingness to be moved from my position and to be moved at the deeper layers of my emotions by what others share. It means learning to be ever more present with myself and others and allowing the natural drivers for behaviour, my needs, and the associated feelings generated by my assessment of whether they are met or not, guide my future actions. It means not giving up on myself or others, but to keep prioritising harmony and honesty -- the honesty that is naked and comes straight from the heart and integrates our thoughts in a compassionate way. It means daring to speak and share my needs and being willing to see the needs in others, even when vulnerability seems scary. It ultimately means being available for connection, staying open to see and accept myself and others.

I know of nothing else that connects us more than living in this needs consciousness, as Marshall Rosenberg called it.