Getting into Conflict

One of the goals of the Peacemaker Fellowship is to help local congregations identify and address the conflicts that arise such that they can fully resolve them and strengthen the bonds of fellowship in the church.  For this reason some folks are surprised that the Introduction to Peacemaker Training focuses so much on individual development and personal conflicts.  

This is the first in a series of posts about the relationship between our own work on conflict in our personal lives and our ability to help others address conflict in theirs.  My goal here is to clarify some principles so that participants can better appreciate why working on themselves prepares them to help others. 


Peacemaker training starts with understanding our own conflicts.  We name, address, and move to resolve our own persistent patterns of conflict in our most significant relationships.  But folks ask, “What about conflicts in organizations?  How does this help solve conflicts in a local congregation?”

Two central principles apply.

  • We can’t solve a problem unless it is ours.
  • Even my Self as what I think of as an individual is a complex organization.

Owning the Problem

One of the questions we address early on in the Introduction to Peacemaker Training is the question “Do you want to be responsible?”  This, of course, is a trick question.  We do and we don’t.  It depends on what we mean by responsible.

This is a critical issue because I can’t solve a problem that is not in some sense my own.  If I don’t own it, I have no power to affect it.

Because we are all beloved children of God and because we are called to love and serve each other and because of the oneness of all Creation and the holographic nature of being: every problem is my problem.  But I have no leverage to address it, much less solve it, if I don’t have a clear sense of how it is mine.

But be clear.  This is not, “Step aside everyone, I am here to fix this mess,” but rather, “In what sense is this a problem for me?  What about this circumstance causes discord within me?”

When my children are squabbling: is this a chance for them to learn how to get along and I should allow them to work it out or is this a situation of danger where I as someone who cares for these beings is called to intervene?  I have to be able to know myself, to know what I need, to know whether to act and how.

Addressing the conflict requires that I get into it and see it from the inside.

Organizations as Complex Individuals

I had a professor in graduate school in the first course I took on conflict resolution who insisted that conflicts in groups were a different phenomenon than conflicts within persons or in intimate relationships.  He insisted that groups are so much more complex that they require a different paradigm to understand them.  Given his prestige I have tried for the last 30 years to observe what he was talking about and I have come to believe that he just underappreciated how complex people are.

The more we get to know ourselves the more we recognize that we are not just sometimes “of two minds.”  We are all very complex and often very conflicted.

Anxiety is not just a low-grade fear; it is the physiological artifact of being pulled and pushed in two directions at once.  An essential part of helping systems in conflict is to present what we call “a non-anxious presence.”  This capacity to be present to others without being overwhelmed by their anxiety is essential to being with them in ways that help them understand themselves and make choices that genuinely move them toward what they need.

As we get to know the parts of us that are in conflict and to see how normal that is we relax and feel less anxious.  For this reason it is essential that we address our own conflicts so we can help others with theirs.