A “wake-up call”

Peace is the desire of every member of any community or society. Regrettably, conflict is part of social dynamics, part of any progress and of any human development. Conflict brings crisis. Crisis is a “wake-up call” to tend to neglected issues which are essential for a healthy life together.

Both in my missionary calling and pastoral responsibilities, and in community life, I have experienced conflicts. The best solution has been composed of elements like: being aware, communicating, sharing about the matter of contention, referring to a mediator or a superior or a friend. Some moments of retreats and community meetings support a peaceful conflict resolution.

In ordinary human life and organisations, there are necessarily policies, regulations, procedures, memorandum of understandings, constitutions and bye-laws. These are safeguards of conflict.

 What is the situation of conflict like? You have different parties or individuals with some common orientations, may be in the same neighbourhood, with shared ideals or of the same origin like a family or tribe. At a point, there arise different interests, ways of understanding each other, course of action, different planning, loss of direction, limited trust or loss of identity. Reflection and reasoning will not lead to the same conclusion and thus not to the same action or commitment.  The conflict begins with losses of unity, of resources and sometimes life.

We are aware at the moment that some families, communities, nations or individuals facing conflicts would like to settle it amicably. That is what we call finding a peaceful resolution. Each party is a “winner” and benefits from the resolution. To come to a peaceful resolution, the time must be ripe. Parties or individuals need to be aware that they need to end the conflict. They also need to have seen the damage done and have experienced and appreciated “peaceful conflict resolution”. Such a positive experience will bring about lasting peace.  A conflict or a dispute is a negative energy but when managed it can lead to new life and a new development. A conflict is social disharmony, that wants things to be in order.

Peaceful resolution has become part of international policies and academic discipline. It is not a new practice at all. A number of traditional societies lived through serious conflicts that led to tribal or civil wars. They lost some members of their societies. To end such a phenomenon, they would decide to settle and arrange a peaceful conflict resolution. They would organize reconciliation ceremonies and peace would reign again.

 In Church circles, conflicts have ruined communities, derailed pastoral work, destroyed the vocations of some members or caused some serious traumas. This has been a source of scandals and an anti-witness to the gospel that we preach. On the one hand we preach love, unity and forgiveness and on the other hand we are fighting and gossiping. What remains of our vocation, of our ministry, of our Christian witness?

 Some of the causes of conflict in our communities or any community starts with lack of proper channels of self-expression, domination and poor communication. There is hardly any dialogue and respect. When we exalt our own values and views, we cannot see the values and views of other members. When we do not respect the story and the history of other members, or parties and promote our own story and history with pomp, we are laying a foundation of conflict. When we do not believe in the change of times, in a different way of reflection, in a different understanding from our own, we are heading for conflict. When we are not ready to change our ideas and ideals as a price for a common vision and for a better grasp of reality, we are already in a situation of conflict.

The most valued resource of any organization, including a missionary or religious community, is its members. These members come from various families, cultural backgrounds and nationalities. Those are assets but they can as well be great liabilities and sources of conflict. The differences entrench each member in his or her culture or tradition of origin. Such a background holds differing values and moral norms, ways of recreations, habits of eating and ways of preparing food menus. Such a background has a different set of education and various ways of appreciation of some facts of life. A background forms a different intellectual ability, our emotional response and conscience. If a difference is well managed, it becomes a source of beauty and complementarity. If it is not well managed, conflicts arise. Here we speak of character and personalities. Maybe the art of the Enneagram comes into play.

 Peaceful resolution is central to missionary life, to religious vocation and human development. Peace is essential for any form of development. Jesus was aware of some conflicts in the hearts of the people. He grew up in a situation where some people were dominated or excluded. He preached in an environment which was hostile to some people. He lived through moments of disunity. In Luke 9: 52-56, Jesus and his disciples passed through Samaria and were not given hospitality and his disciples wanted to call down fire to burn them. Jesus rebuked some of his disciples who were ready to do harm. Such a harm would have added extra weight on the conflict between Jews and Samaritans. Jesus chose the peaceful way. His belief, values, reasoning, appreciation of life were more peaceful than those of his disciples. In Matthew 5:23-26 Jesus counsels that his disciples need first to reconcile with one another before they can offer tithe at the altar. Reconciliation, peace, unity and community life are essentials of Christian life.

 A missionary of today needs to be aware of the need for peaceful conflict resolution, which should be a tool for any witnessing community. This requires listening, learning the ways of the other and a desire to enter into dialogue. Not only is education essential for taking away ignorance but it is also a tool for analyzing situations, and offers a different vision and action. The church needs to be engaged in peaceful conflict resolution. That is the last gift Christ the Risen Lord bequeathed to his disciples; “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give” (John 14:27).

Peaceful resolution is a fruit of values, respect, dialogue, freedom and goodness of heart. It is a gift any confrere, any human being, any member of the society can give to a neighbor.

By: Venerato Babaine, M.Afr.

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