One of the insights gleaned from many years of conflict resolution work in local communities, schools and workplace situations is that it is profoundly spiritual activity. By this I do not mean it is religious in any narrow sense of the word.
Spirituality may at times overlap with religion – and the latter may at times utterly lack spirituality. Spirituality engages us with questions around the meaning of life, our truest selves and our profound interconnectedness with the environment and other people. Conflict sometimes creates a crisis where these matters come to a head.
For those involved in conflict there may be the temptation to give in to negative energies, opt for destructive strategies with regards to the other person and wallow in a broth of resentment, hurt and enemy images. The intensity of our reactions in conflict will vary with the nature of the conflict and also our own personal baggage and histories. Where we are able to negotiate conflict in a manner that enables the processing of all the negative emotions involved, seeks understanding of oneself and the other, pursues healing over retaliation and works toward optimal ends there we encounter spiritual growth.
The now clichéd reference to the Chinese character for crisis combining the symbols for danger and opportunity is still a resonant image for conflict. While fraught with danger it is nonetheless replete with opportunities for growth in the quality of our relationships with others, self-awareness and our capacity for engaging with difference. Conflict to that extent is a school for spirituality.
It is also a spiritual activity for those involved in conflict resolution work (e.g. providing third party facilitation) as qualities of patience, sensitivity, listening, respect for individuals and creativity are developed and honed. Some mediators have also discovered the benefits of meditation practice as one means of nourishing their skills as mediators. The ability to stay with silence, heightened sensitivity to moods, valences and optimal moments of readiness on the parts of individuals to move forward may accrue from such spiritual practices. Senator Mitchell once remarked on the patience required to stay with the recurrent cycles and rehearsals of historic hurts during the talks in Northern Ireland that eventually issued in the Good Friday agreement.
Helping disputing individuals and groups listen to one another in a new way, build bridges, find healing and move toward new opportunities for a different quality of relationship is a deeply spiritual activity.