Three women from Canada were recently in Brooklyn Center facilitating a three-day weekend retreat about conflict resolution and deep listening.
Aftab Erfan, Vancouver-based founder of Whole Picture Thinking, started her conversation with the Brooklyn Center community group by saying: “Just to confirm from an outsider perspective, the world is looking [at how the Twin Cities is responding to the issues lifted up by George Floyd’s murder by police, and the subsequent murder of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center by a police officer]. These stories have resonance around the world, even if they’re not on the news right now. This story here, of how the community is trying to co-create solutions is very relevant.”
Erfan, with colleagues Sera Thompson and Emily Yee Clare of Waterline Coop, introduced the community to Deep Democracy tools for dialogue, conflict resolution, conflict engagement, and collaboration. The method was developed by Myrna Lewis, a white South African psychologist.
Says Erfan, “She was working in post-apartheid South Africa, trying to help communities make decisions together and collaborate. They’re bringing with them into the room the history of apartheid — and divisions not just around race, but around cultural, age, and gender differences — trying to work through a lot of history and baggage. She taught process-oriented psychology, which looks at a person and their trauma, or their problems, or where they’re stuck, and sees it not just as an individual problem but as a community one.This form of psychology is really about working with groups of people and trying to move things in the collective as opposed to one person at a time.”
Tension inevitably develops even with people who are on the same page about goals, but have different ideas about how to get there. For example, a community group working against anti-Asian hate were in conflict about whether they should work with, or in opposition, to the police.
The model has been used with social justice students in conflict with free speech students. “It took about an hour for that group just to negotiate how they were going to talk to each other,” Efran says.
The model has been used with people divided along socio-economic lines — the ‘savior’ mentality that means well, Efran indicates, but needs more direct conversation with the communities they need to work alongside, while at the same time not simply shutting down from shame or guilt or the sense of ‘doing things wrong.’
Similar to Indigenous talking circle practices, when one person speaks at a time — partly to prevent conversations from getting chaotic and escalating in emotions — people take turns speaking, rather than devolving into a kind of ping-pong match. Then the discussion is about what people learned and insights gained — not about who ‘won.’
One common dividing line is between those who operate from a “fear” mentality, rather than “love.” Efran indicates that there are many other polarities that can easily separate and block — even within the same person. For example, a pragmatic person might just want to get things done; an idealist might want to explore multiple angles before even discussing solutions.
Images From George Floyd Square on May 25, 2023
Related Reading: Aftermath of Police Response to 2020 Protests
The Guardian reports that at least 19 U.S. cities are paying out more than $80 million to protestors who sustained injuries in nationwide demonstrations after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020. At least 26 million people are estimated to have gathered to protest racism and police brutality. Civil lawsuits have been filed related to being teargassed and shot with projectiles as part of freedom of speech movements.