Restoring relations

This page is a little different to others on this blog in that it promotes work I help with – that of Restoring Relations. It is here because this blog is concerned with routes to peace, and peace starts with ourselves and our relationships with others (1).

The basic thesis of Restoring Relations is that the patterns of conflict can be unlearnt – or, perhaps more accurately, that the skills, self-awareness and attitudes can be learnt to deal better with conflict when it arises. While some people might need much less help than others – maybe they’re more naturally talented or especially blessed with peaceable qualities; maybe they come from more peaceable homes or gentler societies; maybe they’re just luckier – Restoring Relations assumes all of us need a little help with these things at some point in our lives. This is its raison d’être.

Improving our relationships

Interpersonal relations can prove a challenge for most of us at some point or another in our lives. Ensuring we have better relationships is therefore something most of us would like, even if we don’t always succeed in realising this ambition.

“Handling conflict and difficult conversations are challenges we all face in our personal, community and working lives. Often we come away from these situations realising we could have handled things better, but not knowing how to improve our understanding and skills.” – Restoring Relations Group website (2)

As a people, we’ve been getting a lot smarter over the past several centuries at doing a whole host of complex things, yet we still haven’t found easy ways to get along with each other. In fact we’ve made it acceptable to not get along, from high divorce rates to conflict as entertainment on TV and everything in between.

Part of the problem is our expectations. Many of us hope we can somehow avoid conflict – if we become good enough (strong enough/ clever enough/ gentle enough/ old enough) it will go away and not bother us any more. Or, if we keep a low enough profile (are sufficiently camouflaged/ say little/ pretend to be absent even when present) others will leave us alone and life will go on undisturbed. Or, if we always say yes (thank you/ I agree/ sorry) we can please everyone. As most of us know by now, these are forlorn and childish hopes. This isn’t how life is.

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” – M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled (3)

Navigating conflict

There’s a big problem with trying to avoid conflict. It does not lead to peace. In truth, avoiding conflict in the short term can often ensure the conflict slowly grows behind the scenes. (As I know from experience.) Avoiding it also assumes that all conflict is bad. But without conflict, how do we resolve our differences, how do we know what really matters to others, how do we know what is truly important to us? Conflict, done well, can actually be constructive.

This is not the whole story, of course. The truth is that some people love conflict for its own sake. They thrive on it – ask any psychotherapist or priest. These people can be inordinately destructive to other individuals, their families, the institutions with which they interact and to society as a whole.

Others, largely through no fault of their own, can become almost permanently enmeshed in conflict. This can be dangerous for them, and for those they drag down with them (4). Conflict, while starting small, can engulf everyone for miles around in a firestorm of anger and despair.

Most of us, thankfully, don’t find ourselves permanently in the role of persecutor or victim (5). When we find ourselves in conflict all we want to do is handle it better. For those that do, I would encourage you to visit the Restoring Relations website:

  • (1) There are three elements to the violence triangle. As well as direct conflict (e.g. war), the other elements are derived from our culture, and structural (derived from our organisations and institutions).
  • (2)
  • (3) M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, 1978
  • (4) The psychopathology of aggressive behaviours occupies volumes. Here is a quick starter:
  • (5) The Karpman drama triangle envisages interpersonal conflict as having three roles: persecutor, victim and rescuer. At any stage in the conflict, the participants can shift from one role to another. In a conflict between two people, the tension is reduced by drawing a third person into the drama.