I’ve seen too many occasions of Druids, or people in the wider Pagan community getting into conflict and results being messy, damaging and often aggravated by the wider community. Last year I feel we got it more right than not around Druid Camp issues, so, drawing on a range of experiences, I want to talk about how we handle conflict, because mostly we get this wrong.
Something happens. Usually the two or more people involved know what it was, but they may understand it in very different ways. Thanks to the internet, some aspect of the conflict goes public. One party will likely claim to be a victim of the other. The second party almost always then says that it is the other way round and they are the victim. Now, thus far what we have is pretty normal human behaviour in conflict. I’ve been there. Hurt, angry, in pain, suffering, maybe wanting to lash out, or get some justice, or even the score. It would be nice if even in our darkest and most wounded moments we all could behave like super enlightened people, but realistically, we won’t. Some slack cutting and patience with hurt people helps a lot. We all go there, sooner or later.
However, everyone not directly involved has a lot more scope for calm, clarity and reason. What do we do? We pile in, take sides, make accusations, and most often we demand evidence. We don’t seem to ask what on earth kind of evidence could be presented to us on a social networking website such that we would believe it. Often our own history and baggage comes into play, or our feelings about one or both people. Loyalty to friends is a good thing, but increasing the conflict in a situation is not, so if you are the friend of a person who is hurting, sabre rattling is not going to help them, and picking fights with those who are on ‘the other side’ will only serve to spread the pain, widen the divide, and reduce the hope of resolution.
From the outside, we cannot know what happened. It may be crossed wires and it may be that it could be fixed, with some intelligent intervention and a bit of good will. It could be honest misunderstanding, or confusion, or misinterpretation or a whole bunch of things of that ilk that do not mean either party is evil. Most often the problem is that two flawed human being accidently banged their shortcomings together. Sometimes it is clearer that there could be a genuine victim and a genuine aggressor, but when all you have is one word against another, that’s difficult to tell, especially which way round it is. There may be times when you think you know what you’re seeing. This is why we have the police and law courts and juries – a flawed system that cannot, it should be noticed, handle many of the conflict-of-story cases. But it’s what we’ve got, and trial by public speculation is not a reasonable alternative.
If there is a criminal issue, then you have to treat it like one and encourage the party claiming to be injured to make an approach to the police. If it’s not a criminal level of problem, then what you have is an issue to deal with. Anger and escalation can take you from a dispute into a criminal situation – threats, libel and so forth. No one benefits when those lines are crossed.
No matter who was right and who was wrong, you have two people with problems. Both will need help and support. It may be that one of them has done something appalling, but that doesn’t mean they need demonising. It means they need support from their community to seek help, learn, change, grow or make amends. Druidry is supposed to be about restorative justice. We need to look after the more deluded and messed up members of our communities, too.
So, when you hit a conflict situation, try and avoid using language that will inflame it. Don’t bother demanding evidence, that’s pointless and just makes people feel worse. They can’t give you evidence on facebook. Live with it. If the accusations have a criminal element, it should be a police matter, and it is appropriate and productive to say this. Then, if people are mouthing off, they may be startled into getting some perspective and if they aren’t, they will feel supported in taking necessary action. Where possible, encourage people to step back, and get calm before they do anything stupid. Angry hurting people make mistakes that they would not make as calm people. Try to establish calm.
If you are in a place to listen respectfully to both sides such that you can figure out what is happening and put it straight, there may be useful work to do. I mentioned issues around Druid Camp before, and that was handled well by the wider community, on the whole. Problems were aired and dealt with, all parties had good support, lessons were learned.
It is not an expression of modern Druidry to want to be judge, jury and executioner. It is not Druidry to enter a space of conflict and make it worse. We have to walk our talk with this stuff, we have to take care of our communities and deal with conflicts in responsible ways.