“You are a racist!” The words of one frustrated community member to another, and a team accustomed to doing great things together came to a sudden stop.
Community transformation starts with community building. In a community where conflict is avoided and disagreements end in separation, this was a difficult lesson to learn. I have observed over the years long-term friendships break over misunderstandings, and emotional words create major hurts. There is a lack of conflict resolution skills in this community and major roadblocks stand in the way for lack of trust.
So when we needed to process this through and learn to deal with misunderstandings I thought I had done my homework, I looked at the different ways of handling conflict, did my research, had individual conversations and went into the meeting with confidence (and some apprehension).
What I did not expect was what happened next! After I made some introductory remarks I opened up the floor for an honest conversation. The first person who spoke said to me “Monika, you offended me when…..” Wait, that is not what I had expected. I was not the one in the hot seat. I did not want to be in the hot seat, but God ordained this moment and I had to make a decision; do I get defensive and justify my behavior, or do I model reconciliation, forgiveness, ownership and responsibility?
But more than that, this occurrence and the rest of the conversation opened the door to deeper relationships, honesty, openness and forgiveness. We got to hear each other’s heart and our stories at a much deeper level. We learned to trust each other more. We gave each other space and permission.
As a result the community members went through an exercise of what they value most and came up with some ‘non-negotiables.’
In a community where people don’t trust each other, where backbiting is a daily occurrence, and where people are out for themselves, this lesson of trust has been life changing.
When we look for transformed communities we often look for the glorious signs, the big changes, the showy case study. But in reality it is often the small things that change a community.
Words spoken in peace to each other, conflict that is resolved in healthy ways, trust that is being built and relationships that grow deeper are building stones for transformed communities.
The values are now hanging in the community center as a reminder how they treat each other.