Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Tension Between Principle and Relationship

Earlier in the year I worked intensively with a community that had a member who was in a tough bind. She cared deeply about community and put all of her energy into making her home the best she thought it could be.

The problem was that she held her ideas about how to proceed so tightly that she was essentially willing to deplete all her social capital in promoting them. After years of fighting the good fight (steadfastly promoting her ideas), almost everyone else had given up trying to work with her. Their view was that she showed no interest in alternate views, and would eventually wear everyone down. Yuck.

You can see how this could happen. Intentional community often inspires people to create a lifestyle that's firmly rooted in their principles. Sadly, in this instance her inspiration turned out to simultaneously be her opportunity and her bane. Relationship is the lifeblood of community, and it's counterproductive (even tragic) when one's ideals obscure the need to tend to them. What does it gain you if you secure your ideals, yet ultimately have no one left with which to enjoy them?

In sympathy with this dynamic, the admonition to open your heart to alternative views can appear as the same thing as being asked to accept "alternate facts." When a fellow member is working with a different set of principles—or even orders the same ones into a different package—it can be experienced as threatening, putting your dream at risk.

The request (demand?) to work constructively with different perspectives can feel like selling out. While the highly-principled person believes they're acting in the group's best interest (they'll thank me in the end), that's not how it comes across to those whose ideas are being rejected—to them this person is experienced as obstinate and arrogant (who made her God's gift to community?).

In order for groups to successfully navigate this dynamic, where principles clash, it's typically helpful to take a moment to vet the viewpoints for alignment with group values. Most often, in my experience, there is no high moral ground. That is, members are usually emphasizing different common principles, rather than promoting a personal agenda. If you can establish that point, it's generally possible to deescalate and to start looking for a balance point—instead of for a kissing-your-sister compromise.

The trick here is recognizing that a different perspective (about what is best for the group) is not the same as an unholy one. If you establish that, then perhaps no one will feel compelled to conduct a jihad. Maybe stridency can be checked at the door.

3 comments:

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Unknown said...

At the risk of over-simplification, I think the core of this issue is that the end does not justify the means. This adage is true in all but the most extreme circumstances, which, by the way, are covered by another adage: the exception proves the rule. The great monsters of history--Lenin, to pick one at random--did not think of themselves as villains. They thought the achievement of their principles was worth any sacrifice. Of course the woman you describe would not go anywhere near such extremes; but trying to force people to act the way you want them to contravenes an even more famous adage: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

rithkhmer said...

thank for good post and sharing.......

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