Not everyone wants to see conflict resolved. As someone who works in the field of conflict resolution I tend to think of the best outcome as one in which everyone gets what they need...at least as much as possible. But from time to time (and this afternoon was one of those times) I find myself talking to someone who is asking "What should I do?" but what they are looking for is, "How can I make the other lose as much as possible without getting myself into trouble?"
Certainly there are a good many people who think of justice as a quality that arises when bad people get hurt for hurting good people (i.e. people like us). This is the "logic" behind much of what passes for a criminal justice system. To be clear, I support the presence of a system that determines when people have violated rules for public safety and gives them certain negative consequences as a way of getting their attention and inviting them to change their behavior. In the absence of such a system people tend to behave badly.
But there is a higher form of justice that is about being sure that everyone gets their needs met as much as possible. While we are not making rapid progress in establishing this as the standard across society broadly (though proponents of restorative justice are doing powerfully creative work) we can certainly make this the standard in our own lives. Indeed, in the absence of working to be sure that others get what they need; we will not be able to create what we need.
When we attend to what we need, discern the qualities that are missing for us, act in ways that create these qualities while letting go of the impulse to change others, we succeed in creating what we need and in the process, create what others need as well. But when we are dedicated to ensuring that the other doesn't get what she or he needs we are constrained to act in ways that fail to meet our own needs. We cannot create justice for ourselves by denying it to others.
This past winter I led a Training Group for Clergy using the tools of Creative Conflict Resolution. The experience was fantastic! Not only did the six UCC pastors in the group get the concepts, they were able to use them to good effect in a broad range of settings. As a result I am going to be offering the training on a regular basis. The next one will be starting in August and I already have five clergy signed up.
It is not actually necessary to be ordained to be in the group, but it is important that all of the members be people with experience as leaders of faith communities. More information is available here. Or just give me a call.
CCR is short for "Creative Conflict Resolution." CCR refers to a set of distinctions and practices which allow individuals and groups to respond very differently to the conflicts which inevitably arise in significant relationships. This essay describes the development of the concepts and the use of the term as a container to hold them.
In 1993 I was invited to return to RAVEN to teach the introductory class. RAVEN is a program in St. Louis which does intervention with men who batter. I had been very active with RAVEN through the 80's serving for much of that time as the Clinical Director. But I had been away from the organization for a few years and decided to review the current class content before I agreed to teach it. What I discovered was that there were a couple of rather important distinctions that were are part of RAVEN's current usage that I would alter.
This discovery started me on a project of developing what I thought would be the best introductory class. It was twelve weeks long and included a set of short lectures that I had developed with my clients and in my therapy groups over the prior dozen years of psychotherapy practice with men who had abused people in the context of an intimate or pseudo-intimate relationship. I arranged these lessons into a logical sequence and presented the course to the person serving as the Clinical Director at that time.
She was impressed with the course and liked the flow and content but it was her judgment that the material was too sophisticated for the staff to be able to teach it. It required someone with clinical training and most of the staff at that time were volunteers. I determined to offer the course through the association I had at that time with a partnership called STAR, Sexual Trauma and Recovery. It was billed as the Abuse Prevention Program.
The course prepared the men to address the issues in their lives which led them to act abusively toward those they said that loved the most. It consisted of a set of distinctions and practices or disciplines which they were invited to apply to their own lives with the promise that doing so would lead to more satisfying and stable relationships.
The course itself has been under continual revision. I doubt I have taught it the same way twice. Back in the 90's the content was displayed on a white board or in printed handouts. In 2001 I started using a PowerPoint Presentation as an aid to the course and would revise the content in some significant way at least once a year. I am currently working on another major revision.
In order to move into the second phase of the program, the participants have to demonstrate their ability to apply one specific tool to the circumstances of their own life. This tool is called the Framework for Creative Conflict Resolution. This discipline is one of the ten which are included in the current course material. The first time I actually charted them out I was in 1997 and at the time there were only seven. The Framework for Creative Conflict Resolution was the seventh.
By 1995 it had become clear to me that I was going to have to find or create a new home for the Abuse Prevention Program. I ended up incorporating as The Conflict Clinic as a way to be fully accountable within the laws of the State of Missouri.
By 1998 there were two programs of the organization that used essentially the same technology for transformation. There was the Abuse Prevention Program for men who were ordered as a condition of some court action, and the Building Healthy Relationships program for women and men who had a concern on their own behalf to improve the quality of their relationships.
Because there were now two programs aimed at different populations which used the same core concepts and practices, we began to use the term Creative Conflict Resolution to describe that core.
We have only recently begun marketing of the program to the public at large. In those days, getting the word out happened in gatherings of other psychotherapists or domestic violence intervention specialists. This would be in the context of an informational presentation at a community meeting or in a workshop at a professional conference. This was the principal form of marketing for the programs. While a part of the presentation would be about the structure of the groups and the referral process, the core was about the transformational technology itself which we identified as Creative Conflict Resolution.
By January 1999 we had become clear that the name "Conflict Clinic" didn't really fit what we were doing. We tried the name Community for Creative Conflict Resolution and by March of 1999 we had settled on Center for Creative Conflict Resolution. It was another year before we amended the Articles of Incorporation in 2000 to legally become the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution.
From time to time I get a call from a person asking for a "domestic violence assessment." They assume that this is a standard practice and they just need to find someone who can do this on them to satisfy the Court, a GAL, or their attorney. When I ask them what they mean by the assessment they have very little idea and don't usually know why they have been asked to obtain one.
I want to be very clear about what I am able to do and not able to do to help these folks.
Ruling in but not ruling out:
There is no universally accepted notion of what constitutes "battering." Indeed, the definition in criminal court is rather different than the one in civil court. It is possible, however, to listen to a person's report of the events in a relationship and determine whether those events fall into the realm of what most people mean by battering.
What we cannot do is to listen to a person's report of their own behavior and, on the basis of that report, determine that battering is not occurring. We don't know what we don't know.
Assessment of skills and perspectives:
We can listen to a person's report of their own behavior and, on the basis of that report, identify the strengths and weaknesses they have when it comes to addressing and resolving conflicts in interpersonal relationships. We can say how much they demonstrate avoidance or bullying and whether they can tolerate hearing the other's viewpoint when it is different from their own. But this doesn't meant that domestic violence has or will occur.
We all resolve conflicts every day. Many of our conflicts are so small we hardly notice them. Some are ones we address all the time and are very skilled at resolving. But there are some conflicts which arise over and over in our most significant relationships which never seem to be adequately worked through.
Because they keep coming up--and because they are in relationships which are important to us--we do everything we can think of to try to resolve them. When we can't we often decide that they are irresolvable. "Since I have tried everything," we reason, "and it still isn't fixed, there must be nothing I can do about it."
An interview with Dr. Mark Lee Robinson about the applications of Creative Conflict Resolution to large scale conflict.
What makes your approach to conflict resolution a breakthrough?
I am not entirely comfortable with that term "breakthrough," but it is true that the perspective I bring to this field does allow experts--people who have wrestled professionally with the problems of conflict resolution--to shift to a point of view which they find to be significantly more accessible to creative invention. Some aspects of the shift are complicated but there are two that are central and straightforward. One has to do with what we mean by conflict and the other has to do with what we mean by resolution.