What is Transformative Conflict?

Transformative Conflict in XR

In our experience, the things that are not working well in XR (both structurally and culturally) will eventually end up in conflict.

This means that having a well functioning conflict system has transformative potential for our movement. Each conflict gives vital information about what is and isn’t working well with XR’s structure and culture. We can use this feedback to make XR more effective at reaching its aims.

To achieve this there must be a clear process for tracking problems in the XR culture and structure and then moving them towards clear proposals for change. We are working towards finding the best ways to support personal, interpersonal and systemic transformation to happen within the movement. In each process we facilitate we will listen for feedback on XR UK’s social systems (our agreements for things like: how we make decisions, how we share resources, organise support, share information, handle conflict, listen to feedback) within any conflict or tension, and support people to create agreements that change and upgrade these systems when relevant.

What is Conflict?

Although our experiences of it are often difficult, Conflict [1] can be seen as a form of feedback.

It may be signalling that :

  • some needs are unmet

  • the power and/or trust to care for all the needs involved is not currently within reach

  • change is emerging

  • our relationships, agreements, understanding of what we are trying to do together, ways of sharing power, and social systems [2], may need to evolve.

Conflict often contains a lot of energy, meaning, and potential.

Conflicts are often really painful, distressing, frustrating and destructive. Our experiences of it are mostly intensely negative and traumatic, in our personal lives as well as socially and historically. And so, we want to find a better way of navigating tension, conflict and disagreement, because we know that it can be different...

We believe conflict is a part of life, something that will come up, again and again. How we respond to it shapes whether conflict will tear us apart, or change, evolve and strengthen us. In our experience, if we have the support we need to listen to conflict when it comes our way, it can help us grow - in ourselves, in our relationships with others and in how we work together, in our groups and systems, and in getting clearer on the purpose that we share. We see a lot of conflict as offering an opportunity to evolve and build our collective power [3].

“The absence of dialogue is deadly”

- Dominic Barter


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[1] We will use “Conflict” here as a placeholder for the whole, complex field of Conflict, Tension, Disagreement, Accountability and Justice. The relationship between Justice and Conflict is complex, and a whole further document would probably be needed to begin to explain how we see that relationship.

[2] For example, if someone took some bread from a baker’s shop without asking or paying, the criminal justice system would make a decision about whether a rule was broken and then punish an individual for “wrongdoing”. In a context where people listened to feedback on social systems within an event like this, people might start to collectively engage with the system for distributing resources (e.g. capitalism), and how well it is meeting needs

[3] We have experienced all of this directly within the conflict team: we have found ourselves in a painful conflict, and found support to guide us in hearing each other and letting the conflict change and evolve how we work together. This brought us to a much better place, with better relationships, communication and ways of working.

What is a Transformative Approach to Conflict?

The dominant and default approaches to conflict in our society are often punitive [4]. Punitive approaches tend to see conflict as occurring between a perpetrator and a victim and seek to identify who has done wrong and punish that person. This system ends up oppressing many people and very rarely gets to the root cause of conflict. The effect of the punitive justice system often breaks relationships.

Our work in XR UK is inspired by restorative and transformative approaches. It attempts to rebuild and improve relationships.

Restorative approaches attempt to move beyond the oppression of our current justice systems by focusing on responding to conflict through healing or restoring the relationships and connections within and between people and communities to a healthy and positive state for all. These approaches often focus on hearing the human impact that our choices and actions have had on others.

Following the spirit of restorative approaches, we choose to mainly use the term Transformative, which emphasises that a process is about creating positive change in relationships, conditions and systems. Rather than resolution meaning just going back to a situation where things were really not ok for some, it's about listening to what's not ok and co-creating a way forward that genuinely works for all.


“I believe in transformative justice - that rather than punishing people for surface-level behavior, or restoring conditions to where they were before the harm happened, we need to find the roots of the harm, together, and make the harm impossible in the future. I believe that the roots of most harm are systemic, and we must be willing to disrupt vicious systems that have been normalized. I believe that we are at the beginning of learning how to really practice transformative justice in this iteration of species and society. There is ancient practice, and there will need to be future practices we can't yet foresee. But I believe that with time it must become an incredible pleasure to be able to be honest, expect to be whole, and to know that we are in a community that will hold us accountable and change with us.”

- adrienne maree brown


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[4] Another term that is often used is retributive, which also refers to punishment and causing more pain as a response to pain

What is a Conflict System?

By the word ‘system’ we mean an agreed way of dealing with conflict ongoingly, in a group, team, community, family or organisation [5].

We believe that it’s important to intentionally get clear on what our system for engaging with conflict is [6]. We want to create the systemic conditions in which it makes sense to engage in conflict in the ways we see as most helpful and likely to meet everyone’s needs. For example, in a system for handling conflict that is based on punishment, “anything you say may be used against you” and there may be strong pressures against/very negative consequences for being fully honest, even if you want to be. So, we would like to set up conditions that support people in expressing themselves honestly and listening to each other speak honestly.

As Dominic Barter says, in most places where humans live there is some version of a bed and some version of a kitchen, because people see that they keep needing to go to sleep and needing to eat, they have set things up that are ready for that, each time. Knowing that conflict will keep coming up in a similar way, how can we set up what we need for engaging with it in a way that meets our needs? And can we try to do it beforehand, knowing that it’s coming, rather than setting up your bed when you’re really tired, and your kitchen when you are already very hungry, and your way of having conflict when you’re already in pain and are struggling to communicate? If we don’t create the system we want, we are likely to end up reproducing the patterns of the dominant systems in our society.


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[5] This can be a clear, explicit, intentional agreement, or it might be something a group agrees to without realising it.

[6] We believe that if we don’t choose the system we want, we will mostly default into the patterns of the systems that are dominant in our society

Needs

By needs we mean the positive qualities and things that we all need in order to be well and fulfilled in life, for example food, connection with others, a sense of meaning, empowerment, dignity, a sense of belonging, freedom, to be cared about, etc. We see these as needs that can be met in different ways, and as different from the specific things we do to meet needs, and our preferences about how to meet those needs. For example I might want to relax by watching TV, but I can relax in a bunch of other ways if there is a power cut and TV is no longer an option. Relaxation or rest is what I need, but the options for how I meet that need could include a lot of different things. A rough map of the kinds of things we mean by needs is here.