Acknowledgment in "Real Life"

Submitted by Joe Schaeffer on September 4, 2015 - 6:12am
A sneak peek from "Living Community" by Joe Schaeffer

There are very few times when the higher good of yours
and the higher good of mine are in conflict.

 Eleanor Hamilton

One of the most powerful experiences I have had in the workshops I do centered on acknowledgment. Sikh and non-Sikh legionnaires near Vancouver, British Columbia, had been involved in a serious conflict with each other. The non-Sikhs had refused to let the Sikhs enter the Legion with their turbans on. They said it was disrespectful to those who had died in war. There was great commotion about this in the community, fanned by the press.

I was asked by a friend in the BC Ministry of Attorney General’s office if I would do conflict resolution with the key people on each side, 15 Sikhs and 15 non-Sikhs. I said, “No, but I will facilitate a workshop focused on community and creative communication.” The Ministry agreed and off we went.

During the first five days we did a variety of experiential activities on genuine interest, acknowledgment, and empathy. We also learned creative communication. We talked together as persons, acknowledging differences in values and beliefs. We listened deeply in story circles.

We began the sixth day with an activity in which the group divides into pairs. Then each person in the pairs talks about their hopes and dreams. After each person speaks, the other person acknowledges their hopes and dreams and wishes them well. This is a simple but extremely powerful activity. It is deeply moving to have someone truly acknowledge your hopes and dreams without negative judgement. I have seen many tears of joy as people do this.

I felt apologetic about this at the time, but I manipulated the participants a bit when they were choosing partners for this activity. I asked the non-Sikh man who had stood in the door of the Legion to refuse entry to Sikhs and the man who had stood opposite him at the door to pair off together.

When these two men met each other on the first day of the workshop, the non-Sikh spoke firmly to the Sikh, “I have no problem with your coming to this country,” he said, “but if you want to live here you should learn our customs and abide by them.” And the Sikh man replied just as firmly, “We were good enough to fight and die beside you in the Second World War with our turbans on.” And so the lines were drawn.

Now here they were, the two combatants, face to face with each other. The Sikh man, an elderly retired colonel who had just lost his wife and was becoming a bit frail with time, told his hopes and dreams to the non-Sikh man. The non-Sikh man, a young, ruddy-faced Irishman, told his hopes and dreams to the Sikh.

When the young man finished, the old Sikh said, with genuine sincerity, “I hope you get what you want in life.” The young man looked at the Sikh for a moment, and then, with a quiet voice and in absolute sincerity replied, “Right back at ya, man.”

At the end of the workshop we set aside twenty minutes to talk about the turban issue. There was no wrangling, no jockeying for position, no conflict resolution. Rather, thirty human beings engaged in creative communication and, in the process, searched for, discovered, and explored new meaning together. Their disagreements had long since disappeared.

The next year, incidentally, they walked hand in hand in the Remembrance Day parade.




Thanks for this inspiring call to action- to hear the dreams of others and look for ways to work together.

Design Labs

This is beautiful Joe, I wonder how many conflicts could be solved by such an excercise.  Recently I have been learning about a tool used to solve complex problems called Design Labs.  Here you put a multistakeholder team together for an extended period of time to wrestle with the problem, define it and test out possible solutions.  One of the critiques of it is that it is all about rationality but we know that people are highly emotional.  So one of the questions we talked about is what would a design lab look like that focused on emotion instead of rationality.  I think it would look a lot like what you just described.  Truly inspiring!