The goat’s mustache is Cameron Diaz.

(via krisjamal3 on youtube)

division within communities

Several times in the past 2-3 years, I’ve either witnessed or been a part of a falling out between friends, partners, or housemates.  In some of these cases, there’s been a clear aggressor and clear victim, but for the most part, both sides made mistakes, intentional or otherwise.  

In an ideal world, the two parties would find a way to peacefully coexist, or failing that, go about their lives separately.  The problem with the latter solution is that most of the time, the people involved have mutual friends who they both want to stay in close contact with.  Those friends often want to avoid taking sides, but that puts them in a tricky situation.  

This leads to the awkwardness of hosts having to carefully curate guest lists (do I invite X, or Y? What if I invite X but they can’t come? Should I then invite Y, or will it be awkward because they’ll see that everyone else was already invited and responded to the event before they even saw it?), or of the two people both getting invited to things and having a race to see who can respond first (in some cases, X responding yes means Y will not go, but Y responding yes might not deter X from going, so this strategy isn’t ideal if you prefer Y’s company but also like X and don’t want to exclude them).

There’s also the problem that usually, most people in the friend group don’t know the details of the falling out, just that there was one, or people only know one small slice of one side of the disagreement.  And sometimes people on the periphery of the group don’t know at all and blunder into painful territory with openers like “Why isn’t X here?” or “Did you go to Y’s party last week? It was awesome.”

I don’t have a magic solution to any of these problems.  But I think creating a cultural norm of talking more openly about these kinds of things when they come up could help (rather than treating discussions about them as taboo, or a source of entertainment).  I’m not sure how to do that in a way that’s not super one-sided since you aren’t likely to get both parties to consent to talking openly about it in the same room/forum in a way that doesn’t turn into a new argument/flame war, and second-or-third-hand accounts are likely to be distorted and possibly even more biased than first-hand.  But I do think there has to be a way to help everyone understand the roots of the problem in a way that actually brings the community together rather than pulling it apart.  I also think we can do better at actually healing rifts rather than just accommodating them, though this won’t work in some cases.

So, any thoughts on how to create space for talking about and addressing conflicts openly, honestly, and thoughtfully, with or without buy-in from the people involved in the conflict?  Is this even an issue that other people relate to?