The abundant world you dream of is on the other side of Grace

Budding ideas on how our childhood experiences inform our ability to navigate conflict as adults

The abundant world you dream of is on the other side of Grace
Photo by dylan nolte / Unsplash
The abundant world you dream of is on the other side of grace.

This quote comes from Sonya Renee Taylor and adrienne maree brown's Institute for Radical Permission.

It struck me because as a movement worker and community organizer, I've been in so many spaces where folks are talking about creating liberated futures and their radical visions for the world but fail to see person-to-person interactions as a site of liberation. To see their relationships as the place where liberation and radical ideas are put into practice.

Over the past few years, I've found myself in really tense group and interpersonal conflicts where it seemed like folks were showing up in these situations with the same aggression and anger that they direct toward large systemic issues.

And I think this happens for a few reasons:

Most of us weren't taught how to resolve conflict in a healthy way that maintains the dignity of the people involved.

We weren't exposed to healthy conflict in our developmental years. I know I didn't see healthy conflict resolution in my home, schools, or friend groups growing up. Usually, the only people who have healthy conflict resolution skills are people who have a special interest in the topic, are actively learning about and practicing it through therapy, or learned a little bit about it through training offered at school or work. And so when we find ourselves in tense confrontations, most of what we have to rely on are the skills we learned in our probably dysfunctional childhoods, which isn't helpful.

So for instance, I was raised in homes where conflict looked like yelling over the other person until they gave up the fight, saying the most targeted thing that you know will hurt the other person, name-calling, treating the person like an outcast, isolating them, physical altercations, having things taken away from you, and other punitive behaviors.

Like many people, I carry these early lessons in conflict resolution with me into adulthood, and when I've bumped up against other people, I didn't have the skills needed to navigate the tension in a healthy, productive, and generative manner.

We hold ourselves to unrealistic standards.

When we messed up as children, and our parents and other authority figures responded with some form of punishment, like taking toys away or hitting us, we learned that this was the consequence of "bad" behavior and subsequently learned to avoid punishment as much as possible. We became adults who are in constant pursuit of perfection, never allowing ourselves to make mistakes or see ourselves as people who have the potential to hurt or harm others.

We hold ourselves to unrealistic standards because we have this deeply ingrained fear of being punished. With work, you may fear that if you make a mistake or do something hurtful/harmful, that you'll be berated, called a mean name, ostracized, or fired. These are all things that I've personally experienced as a result of workplace conflicts, and so they're definitely valid fears.

We do to others, what we're afraid they'll do to us.

Again, most of us haven't learned healthy conflict-resolution skills. And so, when we find ourselves in tense moments with people, we use the skills we have - which are punitive in nature. We call people names, yell at them, shame them, ostracize and isolate them, take away opportunities, and possibly push them out altogether. In doing so, we validate and affirm our own fear that this is the behavior we'd be on the receiving side of if we were to become "the problem."

We approach conflict and accountability from a place of fear and scarcity where we don't believe that grace, patience, and understanding are available to us, and so we don't extend them to others.

Living under oppressive conditions reduces our capacity to be mindful and discerning.

Much of my time is spent with people who have committed their lives and livelihoods to combating the ills of white imperialist patriarchal capitalism. We know what it means to be oppressed and marginalized people and that the stakes are high.

What I've seen happen, time and time again is people coming together around a shared goal but not taking the time to focus on and develop the one-to-one relationships within the group. And when conflict inevitably happens, the people you aren't as close to become a stand-in for all things wrong with the world.

In that moment, we forget that we chose to be in relationship with these people, or at the very least need to collaborate with them to achieve our shared goal.

How do we change this?

By extending grace to ourselves and others.

When we find ourselves in tense moments with people we want to or need to be in a relationship with, it's important to slow down and remember why this relationship is important and to ground our next actions in the desire to maintain that connection.

Grace shows up by actively listening to the person or people we're at odds with, expressing empathy for their situation, engaging in honest and respectful dialog, and working to find mutually beneficial solutions.

It also shows up in how we understand ourselves and others as inherently flawed people who will make mistakes, and hurt or harm others. This is just the nature of being human, and unfortunately, the closer we are to someone and the more our lives are intertwined with theirs, the more opportunities there are for painful conflict to happen.

All of us are navigating the world with only the tools and skills we've been fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to learn in our lifetime. Our life experiences, belief systems, and self-concepts all inform how we show up and sometimes it isn't particularly harmonious. And not only is that okay, but it should be expected.

We can see ourselves and the other person, as not at odds, but as different expressions of Life. And that doesn't mean accepting or allowing "bad" behavior to continue, but instead moves us toward establishing and maintaining better boundaries.

We've all done something to someone, and accepting this is what allows us to practice accountability for our actions.

This is not a fully informed or researched idea, but it's something that I find interesting and exciting to think about.

✨ Kiana

*The Institute for Radical Permission was an online course hosted by Berrett-Koehler Publishers. They no longer host the course and I’m not sure where you can find it, but I recommend using their Journal of Radical Permission as an alternative resource.