Everyone is using the word Sustainability right now. Maybe it’s an overused word, but I’m not tired of it yet and I think it’s as applicable to conflict resolution as it is to farming practices. After a long run of exploitation and waste, we’re finally turning toward energy, manufacturing, transportation, and food solutions that allow us to maintain this planet a little longer and leave as little trace as possible. In that same light, I propose that we get on board with sustainable conflict resolution and divorce.
On a global scale, unsustainable conflict resolution is generally called War. When two nations or tribes escalate their conflict it typically becomes violent. The “waste” from these conflicts lives on in entrenched battle zones where fear, misconceptions and hatred gets passed on generation to generation.
This happens on a personal scale as well. Two people start out with a misunderstanding and because neither will back down or talk about it, they ratchet up their anger and antagonism until they decimate their working relationship and experience only contempt for the other person. Once this happens, perceptions become colored with a sense that the other is evil, and can’t be trusted. Everything the other does is seen through a lens of mistrust and ill-will. Listen to anyone describe a conflict that they’re involved in, and they will tell you all about what the other person has done or is doing that is unjust, unfair or just plain mean. If the focus is on the other person, everything that person does is wrong and it’s just about impossible to create solutions that work.
Sustainable resolutions come about when everyone involved in a solution gains something from it. This is sometimes referred to as a win/win but that can be a high bar to reach. Even when it’s not a full, resounding win, a good-enough solution generally brings stability.
In mediation, the problem is broken down into sub-problems so the solutions can get divided between the parties by the parties involved. The process of making these decisions together not only makes them more tailored to each person’s needs, but it reminds each of the other’s humanity and vulnerability and makes it difficult to view them as solely unjust, unfair or just plain mean.
In parenting coordination, co-parents rebuild the toxic wasteland of their relationships through education and by practicing collaborative decision making while maintaining the focus on their children’s needs.
Solutions born of collaboration last. The tension is de-escalated and parties learn through these processes that when they face conflict, they can return to the table to find a resolution again and again.
Conflict is like weeds in a garden - as soon as you pull them, more pop up out of the soil. We’re never going to end conflict (and we probably don’t want to,) but if we can build the skills and trust, we can work through it when it crops back up.