Much has been written about the terrible events that unfolded August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia. For some of us this event struck home – literally. Our family lives just a few blocks from where the violence took place. While my wife and children left town Friday on a long-planned visit to see extended family, I stayed behind.
It was an eerie Saturday morning. Walking to the gym I saw two men in paramilitary clothes carrying assault rifles, walking past the otherwise tranquil farmer’s market. I ran into a friend on his bicycle, riding slowly toward Emancipation Park. “I want to just see what’s going on,” he said. Otherwise, on my way home three blocks from the Park, there was little sign of trouble.
That all changed in the hours that followed.
By the end of the day, three people had lost their lives. My office looks down on the site where a young woman was horrifically run down and twenty others were injured.
I don’t want to revisit the events themselves, or analyze what they mean or how things could have been different. It is still too soon.
Violent tactics, intimidation, and hateful speech represent an extreme conflict arena, one in which safety, nonviolent resistance and legal/coercive strategies become important. Like nearly all Americans, I unequivocally condemn racist, sexist and anti-Semitic views. I condemn violence in all forms, including hate speech and intimidation. (I also believe that we must reform our gun laws and work to address the epidemic of gun deaths that plague our communities.)
Yet at the risk of beating on a familiar drum, I am sure of one thing: it is more important than ever that each of us works to cultivate resolve – the confidence to approach conflict and potential conflict wisely and well. Conflict has mushroomed around the world in the last year, yet even in less trying times, and in more personal realms, conflict is a fact of life.
When we consistently run from conflict, see it only as a battle to be won, or echo one another in increasingly segregated social media circles, we miss opportunities to engage with others in ways that sometimes achieve better outcomes and relationships.
Unfortunately, most of us are increasingly experiencing events like Charlottesville through the lens of both social media and opinion- and ratings-driven television. This is worrisome, because the things that happen on the ground in situations like this one – the noble and hopeful and healing things – are often lost as pundits and posters race to analyze and argue about what has happened, or should happen, and what it means.
What can each of us do in these difficult times to build our resolve, our ability to engage productively in consensus building and conflict resolution?
We can work to manage our emotions, by connecting to and drawing on one another. We can work to stress-test our assumptions and beliefs, and to communicate carefully so that we contribute principled views rather than reactionary ones. We can work to build practical skills for managing conversations and negotiations more effectively, so that when we have the (safe) opportunity to engage with those who see the world differently from us, we are prepared to be constructive.
Here in Charlottesville, so many conversations have started. People are shaking hands and hugging in the streets; introducing themselves to strangers and making new friends. I see people working to manage emotions and well-being, by connecting to and drawing on one another. I see people working to manage perceptions and assumptions, through inquiry and reflection. I have seen many people inviting others to engage in efforts to repair the fabric of the city. The prevailing feeling? We are all in this together. We need to come together to celebrate what is best about our community and to take seriously the things that need repair.
Again, it is too soon to know what responses the Unite the Right rally will spark. But I am sure that conflict – from international standoffs all the way down to intensely personal grievances and differences – is going to remain a feature of life in our country and elsewhere. There has never been a better moment to practice moving toward it, with clarity, courage, and competence.
– Hal Movius
Postscript: Today Heather Heyer’s mother delivered such a powerful eulogy. These words in particular moved me:
“My child was no saint. She was hard to raise, because everything was a negotiation. I’m not kidding. But you know what? She was a firm believer in whatever she believed. And let’s do that. Let’s find that spark of conviction. Let’s find in ourselves that action. Let’s have that uncomfortable dialogue. It ain’t easy sitting down and saying, Well why are you upset? It ain’t easy sitting down and going, Yeah, well I think this way, and I don’t agree with you; but I’m going to respectfully listen to what you have to say. We’re not going to sit around and shake hands and sing kumbaya…. But the truth is, we are going to have our differences. We are going to be angry with each other. Let’s channel that anger not into hate, not into violence, not into fear; let’s channel that difference, that anger, into righteous action.”