In May this year, 2 residents who help to direct food and other essentials to their neighbours fell out with each other. One is connected to some 80 older persons in the neighbourhood and the other, reaches out to families with children. Both consider themselves to be volunteers of our organisation and they both take their role as the coordinator of goodwill going into their neighbourhood very seriously, and with much pride. Both also believe in collaborating, sharing, and minimising wastage and the duplication of resources to the same recipient.
These past 7 months have been very difficult for both. They have not spoken to each other, but they have spoken to others and us, about each other. Whenever we listened to them, there was much hurt, anger and disappointment but amidst these strong feelings, there always seemed to be a little voice yearning to put this unhappiness behind them. So, we offered to help them come together but somehow this kept getting delayed and I must say that we may have procrastinated on the matter too. Conflict resolution is never easy, and it is more comfortable to prioritise the never-ending stream of urgent tasks that confront us every day.
So, we were most heartened when both showed up early yesterday. One of them came with a spouse and it was not an issue to the other as everyone was familiar with each other. After thanking everyone for their presence and reiterating the agenda of reconciliation, we ask them to share their understanding of what went led to the conflict. Piecing together a timeline of how their conflict came about did not seem possible as we found it hard steering them away from the logistical aspects of cooperation. Nonetheless, eventually we insisted that we were not there to resolve logistical problems but a problem between people and we would like to start by understanding their needs.
“Having needs does not mean that we are weak or bad people. All of us have needs and recognising them honestly helps us better understand ourselves and others,” we elaborated. On the whiteboard, we wrote both their names, and we began by putting a need under one of them. We explained that we had perceived this from what was said earlier. “Respect” was the first need we listed and upon confirming that our observation was accurate we asked if it was similar for the other person too. In all, 11 different needs were listed and 9 were shared by both.
The process surfaced reflections, revelations, and raw responses. It was also at times tense, and we asked if they also had a need for revenge. This question was not answered but soon after, we heard that being accused of caring for neighbours along ethnic lines hurt both deeply, as doing so was against their need for fairness that they valued deeply. The one who raised the issue of racial favouritism was overcome with emotion, and the other reached out promptly to comfort, leading to an exchange of apologies.
While the meeting ended on a positive note, both were realistic that the conversation should continue another time and hopefully, over a meal and without the tension that they brought into the room yesterday. For now, we hope that they will remember that they have many similar needs, which include the need to be understood and the need for peace.
Wishing you good health and peace of mind.