Forum looks at Island conflict in a new way

Pick up The Beachcomber any week and you will read about community conflict. Deep concern for the Island’s well-being, its myriad resources and future potential launches diverse opinion in areas from the Vashon Park District to Vashon Allied Arts, to the Mukai Farmhosue, to rumble strips, to mud bogging and hunting in Island Center Forest, just to name a few. Letters, articles and editorials every week in The Beachcomber “voice” opinions on both sides of many issues, but where is a semblance of actual conversation? Are we listening to each other?

All Island Forum invites our community to take up this challenging topic during a forum called “Navigating Conflict: learning about ourselves through differences and disagreements” next Wednesday.

The purpose of this initial forum (scheduled in two parts) will be to nurture a sense of safety and trust while we inquire into the nature of conflict and our personal strategies for meeting differences. The second part, to be held in November, will be to introduce skills for civic listening and speaking when there are disagreements or conflict.

As part of All Island Forum’s planning group, we decided to first learn more ourselves in a “test run” forum with a small group last June. During this session I discovered some of my own patterns regarding community conflict, as well as a renewed desire to overcome these patterns. Real questions emerged for me that I was determined to challenge myself about.

How do we manage conflict on our island? Can we consider using various models of communication and face-to-face conversation? What will empower us, as individuals, to reach across the gap of disagreement, to learn what “the other side” is trying to say?

I began observing my behavior when it comes to conflict. Depending on how passionate or close I am to a topic, like many people, I will fight or run away. I’ve noticed that stepping back and becoming critical is a way that I run away and fight at the same time.

Inspired by the test run forum, I took action on a grudge I held against an Island organization. My difference with that group prevented me from empathizing with the humanity of the people involved, and even less, their controversial proposed plans. My head was in the sand. I reached across this dehumanizing river of darkness to make personal contact with a leader of the group, where face-to-face, we stood on the common ground of our simple humanity. Having done that necessary personal reflection and action, I am eager to enter an actual, and likely difficult, conversation on the issues. Yet, I don’t see a ready venue nor experience a community habit for that kind of conversation.

Once we take the huge first step to hear each other, how do we work toward resolving conflicts? Where does individual responsibility rest in disagreement? Would learning common tools and methods for resolution encourage our community to constructively deal with differences?

Conflicts and difference, large and small, are around every corner. If we learn about our personal strategies during conflict, we may discover many things, including tools to help our community move through disagreement toward resolution.


— Karen Nelson is a Vashon-based touring dance artist who is active in All Island Forum.

Part one of All Island Forum’s “Navigating Conflict: Learning about ourselves through differences and disagreements” will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 10, at the Open Space for Arts & Community.


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