Why Conflict is a Good Thing

Social change work is messy. Creating lasting social change is beyond complicated. And, conflict is a healthy, necessary part of working in groups. So, this post is not about avoiding or resolving conflict. It’s about accountability to each other and the group’s goals.

A conflict arises between members of the group. It’s the eleventh hour and decisions need to be made and work has to be done.. Time is limited. Do we stop working  and resolve the conflict between group members, or do we stay focused on the work, hoping the conflict can be addressed later?

There are times where we would get past it by just saying that right now is not the time to focus on that. We have something bigger at stake currently that we need to put all this pettiness aside.
— Ayo, former member of Boston Student Advisory Council

Maybe the conflict is directly related to the organizing work, and hashing it out could actually shed new light on what needs to get done. Or, maybe the conflict is so hot that the work will be negatively impacted. Then, isn’t it better to push pause and talk about the group/individual’s concerns?

There are loads of tools groups use to work through conflicts. Universally, strong relationships are the foundation of brave spaces where youth can safely work through conflict together. For example, starting work sessions with check-ins (each person says how they are feeling that day) can help tap into those relationships and surface internal struggles individuals are bringing into the group.

The Boston Student Advisory Council and partner org Youth on Board provide access to re-evaluation counseling (RC) for youth on a regular basis to support their mental wellness. Silent therapy is one activity in RC. In this video, Ayo talks about silent therapy. 

 At the Baltimore Algebra Project (BAP), a totally youth-led organization, all decisions are taken democratically by the whole group. Unique describes how youth at BAP work together even when conflict arises.

Becca from BRIDGES in Memphis (and lead storyteller on this project) recently shared a story of how a conflict about gender norms arose in a group that was working to end sexual violence in Memphis. It took hours to talk through the issues and create mutual understanding among group members, but in the end it led to much more inclusive organizing environment. Individuals learned. The work got stronger. The conversation was a turning point, and its impact is evident in BRIDGES years later.

Simply put, conflict arises when something isn’t going right. And what usually lies on the other side of a conflict is transformation. 

by Dana Wilson