Community in Conflict: Letter to the Editor

imageOur school district is experiencing some pretty serious conflict. I wrote this letter to the editor for our local paper and it still hasn’t been published. I am getting annoyed, so I am publishing it here.

I attended the Cedar Falls School Board meeting on February 27 and witnessed the resignation of superintendent Mike Wells. While there was serious conflict and disagreement in the room there was also shared values of providing optimal education to our children. This is our common ground. Likewise all parties took responsibility for their failings. Those who spoke acknowledged that communication had been less than adequate and asked for forgiveness. These are signs of health.
Unhealthiness is evident in the feelings of mistrust between the staff, the school board and the superintendent. The question is “how do want the future to record this difficult time?” What do we want the next chapter to read? We need to have enough vision that this moment while painful, is not the final moment. I believe we can rise to the challenge.

We need to step into this next chapter with a focus on restoration and reconciliation. We achieve this through truthfulness and transparency. Truthful communities are communities of encouragement and hospitality. Miroslav Volf writes, “Without the will to embrace the other there will not be truth between people, and without truth between people there will be no peace.”

Conflict in all relationships is expected. We should anticipate it. It seems to me that most conflict arises because of poor communication. Ed Friedman, author of Generation to Generation writes, The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. Communication does not depend on syntax, or eloquence, or rhetoric, or articulation but on the emotional context in which the message is being heard. People can only hear you when they are moving toward you, and they are not likely to when your words are pursuing them. Even the choicest words lose their power when they are used to overpower. Attitudes are the real figures of speech.

When people don’t feel heard, communication shuts down.
When people don’t care if everyone is heard, trust dies.

I think about my week as a commissioner at the General Assembly meeting of the PC(USA) and I remember all the rhetoric and eloquence spoken, and I realize that there was little listening, lots of power, and no trust.

I think about our government leaders and their pattern of putting their heals in the ground with little listening, lots of power, and no trust.

We have got to be better than this. We have to expect more from our leaders and ourselves. It’s time we come to the table, expecting conflict, with our egos in check and a willingness to listen. Conservative, liberal, church folks, school folks, neighborhood folks. We need to change our attitude and start trusting each other again.

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