Re: advice on resolving conflicts
From: Mark Harfenist (
Date: Thu, 4 Mar 2010 04:16:59 -0800 (PST)
Tree's response, pasted below, is worth reading and re-reading.  A community 
which practices conflict-avoidance (in whatever form, including "It's too 
expensive," or "we don't have the time....") needs to admit to its collective 
self that problems do not really reside in individuals.  Hoping that the 
troublesome individual in question will just get a clue or vanish in some way 
doesn't really work; instead, it strengthens a shared, often unspoken set of 
protocols for dealing with problematic members. 

The tendency is for the same or similar problems to arise again and again in 
different forms, often embodied in different people, since they are expressions 
of systematic issues, human nature, or random probability.  In other words, 
even if the person in question leaves the community, someone else will 
mysteriously step forward to play the same role.  This can be very depressing 
to experience.  Furthermore, the tendency is for avoidance to absorb more 
energy than confronting the problem actively ever could have, although at a 
different intensity and pitch.

On the other hand, avoidance is an established way of running, for example, 
families, communities, macroeconomic systems and international geopolitical 
processes. As long as everyone experiences it as a deliberate choice--"I'm 
choosing to put my energy elsewhere..."--and understands the implications, 
who's to criticize?  We're all somewhere on the same confront-vs.-avoid 
continuum, and we're all constantly experimenting with where we'd like to move 
on the continuum in the future.  

Hope that perspective is helpful.


(of Bellingham Cohousing, but writing from southern Chile, where similar issues 
are being played out in a very different realm)

Tree Bresson wrote:
However, the situation as you describe it sounds problematic, and i'm 
not just talking about your designated problem person.  ANY way to 
solve this is going to take substantial time and preparation, whether 
you hire an outside facilitator or not.  If people don't have the 
energy to deal with it, then i think y'all need to acknowledge that 
you are actively choosing to live with this situation as is.  On the 
other hand, if "i don't have time" said by your members is a 
euphemism for "i feel too scared to take this on, this situation 
requires more skills than i/we have," then hiring an outside 
facilitator may help.

While i am hugely in favor of using local consultants, seeing it 
framed immediately in terms of cost, combined with the resistance to 
gathering in circle, makes me worry that your community's ongoing 
commitment to gaining the skills required to deal with situations 
like this may be lacking.  No matter how this particular situation 
turns out, in all likelihood it will not be the last time that your 
community has a tough conflict with one of its members.  The 
communities i've seen that are the happiest and healthiest are the 
ones that make a strong commitment to "learn how to fish" by gaining 
core peacemaking skills.  This may happen in a variety of ways, such 
as study groups, internal presentations by community members who have 
expertise to share, hiring outside trainers, supporting members to 
attend workshops and report back, etc.

Good luck,


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