Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Feelings and values

Something that I learned in my conflict resolution workshop and that I witnessed again during the meeting facilitation training in Courtenay, British Columbia was the importance of a dialogue in which feelings and values are expressed and heard.

When people encounter challenges, they often respond with what they believe are solutions. Hasty solutions, however, sometimes have unintended consequences that, in themselves, become problems.

One of the issues that we trainee meeting facilitators observed the members of Creekside Commons discussing was whether or not to surround their community with a deer-resistant fence. Prior to our arrival, members of the community had been divided on the question.

Attempted solutions that had created new problems were the fences and walls that about forty percent of the households had erected around their individual back yards and the temporary fences around the community vegetable garden and community orchard that many residents considered ugly.

When people who disagreed with each other about a perimeter fence sat down and had a dialogue, they were very surprised to discover the values they shared.

A theme that emerged was that members of both camps cared deeply about the meadow on which they had built their community. Most of them also were committed to sustainability. But what did sustainability mean? Did it mean ensuring food security for humans? Did it mean living in harmony with deer and other wild animals?

Creeksiders also found out that many of them regarded themselves as prudent. But again, how was that defined? For some community members prudence meant fiscal responsibility. For those people, the cost of a perimeter fence and Texas Gates (cattle grids) were a concern. For other people, prudence was tied to stewardship of the land for future generations.

Other issues that emerged were aesthetic considerations (what balance to create between edible and ornamental landscapes), privacy in individual owners' back yards, and maintenance of an open and accessible community while providing safety for children.

Allowing for minor modifications because of our community's different layout, I can see us at Pacific Gardens Cohousing Community having to address the same issues in due course. I also see the same range of values and interpretations of those values represented amongst our community members.

The meeting that we external trainees facilitated for Creekside Commons did not result in a consensus decision. But it cleared the air and elicited mutual compassion amongst Creeksiders who previously had disagreed with each other. Towards the end of the meeting they figured out some next steps that we all were confident would result in a resolution in the near future.

This exercise demonstrated to me very powerfully that a discussion of feelings and values was not a waste of time. Indeed, while it involves an upfront investment of time, it is more efficient in the long run. It also leads to win-win outcomes.

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