Conflict at any level rises out of a competition. Two groups or two individuals each wanting something that is in competition with the needs or wants of the other. This is true at all levels of conflict whether we just have a problem to solve or we face an intractable situation.
The danger for the parish system is that this competition becomes a win-lose struggle.
Here in Seattle
I live in Seattle. Here in the land of tolerance we seem to be rather good at taking situations that lend themselves to happy compromises, or even win-wins, and moving things rapidly into a win-lose position. Two examples.
Indigenous Peoples Day vs Columbus Day (Italian Heritage Day)
City Council acted to place Indigenous Peoples Day on the same day as Columbus Day. Native Americans and some on the left were happy. The Italian community and others on the left were not happy.
Kshama Sawant, the socialist member of city council, who my friends would expect me to side with1, said “Columbus did not embark on a simple voyage of exploration—it was always intended as a voyage of conquest and ultimately colonization” and "This resolution is about more than just a name change, it is about educating ourselves and our children about taking a stand against racism and discrimination" and about Columbus "the man who “played such a pivotal role in the worst genocide humankind has ever known.”
Ralph Fascitelli president of the Seattle-based gun-control advocacy organization Washington Cease Fire, says the council needlessly offended Italian Americans. “We empathize with the death and destruction of the Native Americans.” And "The problem is that the mayor and the City Council couldn't arbitrate and find an equitable solution so that Columbus Day, which is essentially Italian Heritage Day, wasn't thrown under the bus." A group is forming to fight the change and take action against members of city council in the next election.
The Seattle Times said, "Replacing one observance with the other is not “reconciliation,” but an attempt at attitude control through legislation." Neither day is an official city holiday with free curbside parking. Even so the uproar is loud.
Sometimes humor helps -- The Cobert Report on Columbus Day Under Attack. Sometimes it doesn't. Lightness always helps.
And cars vs bikes
Next to my favorite Starbucks is a new, mostly unused, bike rack. It sits where two parking spaces for cars once were. Along the street there are also several bike racks located on the sidewalk. The one pits bicycles against automobiles. The other allows for both.
In cities and in parishes
In these situations those on the losing side end up resentful. It's a resentment not just based on having lost. There is an extra layer of hurt because it was possible for both sides to have what they wanted. But one of the parties wanted to win and see the other side lose. It's not simply losing. It is losing with insult added. One party walks away feeling injured.
What that means is that the fight will continue.
I'm not saying there are never times when there must be winners and losers. Justice may require it on occasion. And sometimes the resources are limited and can't accommodate both parties. There are times when these fights seem silly. How many parishes have fought over disposable cups vs. ceramic cups for coffee hour? Is the resulting ill will really in proportion with what is at stake?
When we allow a conflict to move into a win-lose struggle people will have more limited contact, language will get exaggerated, personal attacks will increase, the shade of gray will disappear. And it might get worse--it can move into intentionally hurtful actions as the parties lose a sense of the pain their actions are causing. And that can move into doing serious damage to one another's reputation and well being.
Sometimes we can be so right that we are wrong.
1 Sawant helped bring the $15 minimum wage to Seattle.