Wow! I feel so happy that I made the choice to go to a conflict resolution coach instead of a therapist. Barbara Lipsom, Director of Seeds, gave me many insights on how to be a healthy community member who can help model and facilitate healthy community. I deeply appreciate her insights.
I had already come to the conclusion that the way I was dealing with conflicts in the Direct Action Everywhere community was based on my distress rather than what I knew in my heart to be the right thing to do.
It was as if the universe conspired to have things happen that would push every single one of my buttons at once so that I would be forced, once and for all, to look at myself and take full responsibility for my part in conflicts that I have been involved with much of my adult life.
In the last 5 minutes of our meeting, everything came into focus. Barbara eloquently explained that all of us are looking for the perfect match–someone lines up with everything in our being and we can feel perfectly in harmony and at home with. She says that this ideal that most people are looking for is never going to happen because we are all so unique.
I have so many really good friends who I treasure, and none of them feel like they line up with fitting all my needs. And Direct Action Everywhere does not fulfill all my needs either. Barbara helped me realize that if I can appreciate the common ground that I do have with others and get different needs met from different people, then I will be much more content. As long as I am making demands on people to change, the relationship will be under a lot of tension and then more likely will fall apart. The same thing holds true for any organization I am part of.
I do believe that Direct Action Everywhere is the animal rights organization most suited to my needs and values.
We also talked about the need for me to be discerning. I need to make sure that my basic values are not being violated, and that I am not enabling people to stay stuck.
I can embrace my longing for a person or people–to be as close to my values as is possible. I believe that as I identify and live those values inside and out–I will vibrate at a frequency which will draw the right people to me.
We also talked about how it is important for me to consistently use empathic listening in my interactions. I have been practicing Nonviolent Communication as taught by Marshall Rosenberg for 30 years, yet still, the essential skill of reflecting back to people what they are saying is something I have not been practicing consistently. I yearn for this skill to simply be a knee jerk reaction!
In conversations I have had with DxE members and organizers, I have often been defensive and critical. St Francis was so smart when he said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” When conflicts came up while I was passionately and happily serving in the SF Bay Chapter of Direct Action Community in Berkeley, I was caught off guard.
A big reason was that I was having expectations that everyone resolved conflicts the way I did. I had at least four things going on:
- I had my own past experiences with disappointing experiences in organizations come up, so I had past distress clouding my judgment.
2. I was struggling with conflicts with some friends I love very much who don’t belong to the DxE chapter in Berkeley.
3. I was stressed out because I had been working so hard trying to help DxE get the circles program up and running along with other projects. I was not doing enough self-care including getting enough sleep.
4. My expectations of Wayne and the whole organization were unrealistic.
I had been hoping that DxE had it’s conflict resolution policies already figured out. I thought Wayne had learned every lesson he possibly could have learned about communication. I thought everyone loved each other equally and noone would tolerate unresolved conflict!
Every organization has its weaknesses. Most of them have those weaknesses in the areas of communication and conflict resolution. I know DxE including Wayne is working on these issues. That is very encouraging to me, and my input is wanted.
Barbara helped me realize that all organizations have their challenges and that my expectations were unrealistic. She reminded me that if I go into a group and start complaining and demanding changes, people are going to resist. Now, I really want to do what I intended to do in the first place when I came to Berkeley. Listen more, understand even more, and talk less!
Seeds has mediation services that we can call upon if necessary. The organization, which has the tagline, Cultivating Community, Transforming Conflict, also offers facilitation services. I can see that these services are useful to know about. If a conflict gets really intense, it might need mediation services. If our chapter needs to make a very big decision, like changing bylaws or major structures, the services of an objective and experienced facilitator might be needed.
Spending 75 minutes with Barbara was extremely helpful. As a professional mediator as well as a person who helps organizations become healthier in their community life, her validation that I was on the right track gave me a sense of confidence and relief. I admitted all my mistakes to her, and she even said that me being willing to take responsibility for my part in conflicts showed that I am a valuable person in the life of the DxE community.
Even though at one point, especially when I was angry with Wayne Hsiung, co-founder and lead organizer of DxE, I thought things were so bad that I might need to become a whistle blower, fortunately, the voice of reason from friends and my own soul won out.
I realized how many stories I was making up in my head. The irrational thinking was controlling the neuropathways in my brain! I am so glad that one friend, in particular, was able to be there for me holding space where I could vent when I needed to. I’m glad I didn’t persuade him that DxE was not a safe place for anyone to be.
I wasn’t feeling safe because I was getting triggered and I was pushing everyone else’s buttons and together we all created a seething mass of emotions that inspired us to do things that were a tragic expression of our needs.
Nothing happened that would endanger anyone’s life. No one abused me–physically or emotionally. No sexual harrassment happened. My freedom of speech was not curtailed. When I withdrew for a few weeks, no one rejected me. The disruptions that occurred because of my high standards and me making demands for people to communicate, helped us all see that it is important to communicate in more conscious ways.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. I have felt compelled and inspired to learn and practice communication and conflict resolution practices every since I learned about Nonviolent Communication 30 years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, Chris. Other people have been inspired to study and practice other skills that are much needed in our animal liberation movement. I want to acknowledge that I do have this strength, and model it–not get frustrated because other people don’t have this ability!
I’m glad I met with Barbara. She was straight forward with me, yet gentle, kind and validating. I sense that she has tremendous confidence in the ability of humans to become their best self, having seen time and time again the positive results of mediation. She also is realistic, as she reminded me that as I connect with people, there might be people with whom I might never build a trusting relationship with. I need to accept that and not take it personally.
Barbara basically covered all the four agreements as we discussed my challenges, because she talked about building a culture of trust. The book, the Four Agreements, contains the following:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
More than at any other time in my life, I really want to memorize and follow these agreements. If I had these uppermost in my consciousness when conflicts arose, I could have been instrumental in helping these conflicts be something that contributed creativity and closeness instead of division and fear.
Barbara reinforced my belief that anything anyone does comes from some unmet needs. If I can help myself and others discover that need and develop a healthy, win-win strategy to meet that need, then everyone can thrive.
Why is it that I needed to pay someone to tell me things I already know? Why do I so easily forget profound truths that I strongly resonate with? Why is it that I can get so caught up in irrational thinking that I do things that are hurtful?
I think it is because we all are immersed in a society that does not use the principles that Barbara reminded me of. And because we all come from this larger society, we have habits that we bring that we have been taught. We also have wounds that have been inflicted on us stemming from generations of hurtfulness.
I know that DxE has a vision, which I believe in, that animal liberation will happen in one lifetime. This means human animals as well. I know that most people in DxE want to help create a culture of healthy communication where everyone can get their needs met, and this is part of our human liberation. I hope with all my heart that I can contribute to this happening in the SF Bay DxE which serves as an example for all the other chapters in this growing movement.
Thanks to Barbara, I believe I have a clear path to walk. I deeply appreciate her work in the world and I’m glad that Seeds and Barbara are in Berkeley. I’m glad to experience her work so that if in the future DxE needs their services, I can recommend them. I’m glad to have the DxE community to be a place where I can learn how to be a healthy community member while simultaneously helping our community to be healthy.
And from the healthy soil of thriving community, our movement can grow and support all the other animal rights communities to work together to manifest animal liberation in one generation!