As we make our way forward through this long crisis, we can expect an erratic path to the future. The sequence of events will be unpredictable. Progress toward our ultimate goal will be diverted and delayed by repeated shocks and disruptions.
We must shore up our spirits and brace ourselves for frustrations. Sharing vision and purpose with others will steady our course – and our nerves.
Community spirit, and the success of communities in determining shared purpose and strategies for coping, will be critically important. This can only happen when we rise above our differences and come to understand and trust one another as friends, neighbors, and allies.
Readers are quite right to question how I can expect the intense antipathy and incivility current among the American people to allow us to actually sit down and attempt to understand and cooperate with one another.
You may think the idea impossible, even absurd. But, as I have tried to explain, we have no choice. Our failure to do this in good faith could result in the absolute loss of the American Republic and everything it stands for.
I think it interesting that our young people can commit themselves to discipline, teamwork, and decisive action in the armed forces – while the rest of us appear unwilling to exercise even basic civility, much less the generosity and loyalty that have characterized the American tradition.
It is not necessary to compromise our personal views and beliefs. The challenge is to be both self-confident and respectful as we engage with others to resolve local problems. This may require that we adjust our attitudes. Can we come to terms with one another as teammates and compatriots committed to the fundamental integrity of the nation?
No cohesive effort can be mounted, much less succeed, if we cannot get ourselves onto the same page. This is not possible if we cannot listen with understanding and communicate with civility.
The way we handle working relationships and resolve local problems will be the first stage in preparing for the future. A right attitude for dealing with an immediate crisis, as I suggested in an earlier post, will probably be the right attitude for working with one another to build a better future.
There will be confusion at times, and a failure to fully comprehend the nature of problems. Many of us are demoralized or under immense pressure. Those who have the presence of mind to engage in problem-solving will need to step forward to engage and pull people together.
Working with people can be one of the greatest tests in life. To assist readers in approaching the challenges of working with people – including those who are especially difficult to work with – the forthcoming book will offer supportive guidelines for a variety of conditions and circumstances. These will include:
1) Overcoming personal differences to build trusting personal relationships.
2) Facilitation of public meetings.
3) Group decision-making where differences of perspective or opinion are present.
4) Addressing conflict by means of an approach known as conflict transformation.
5) Working in groups to plan and execute projects.
I expect you are wondering what I mean by “conflict transformation”, mentioned in #4. This is a practical approach to conflict developed by John Paul Lederach and others. His book is The Little Book of Conflict Transformation.
Conflict transformation looks beyond resolution of the obvious issues on the surface of a conflict, to recognize and respond to the deeper factors that simmer below the surface – the roots of a conflict. It seeks first to understand and address perceptions and underlying causes; second, to reduce adversarial confrontation; and, third, to address the human needs relating to the conflict and to invite participation in finding constructive solutions.
I will try to give you a brief taste of my own thinking on building trust in personal relationships next week. Related commentary may appear in future blog posts, but to gain access to a range of practical tools and guidance you may purchase the book when it becomes available.
Next week: Building strong working relationships
Note to readers: A table of contents and several chapter drafts from the forthcoming book are posted on the blog site. See especially Chapter One: American Crucible and Chapter Six: The Ground of Freedom.