Moving from Passive Aggression to Using Conflict as a Transformational Tool
[From the June 2011 edition of SEEDS, an online publication of Good News Associates]
When I first began traveling among local Quaker meeting/churches in my staff role with New England Yearly Meeting, I was given the metaphor from the Book of Revelations that when visiting, I am consulting with meeting/church’s angel. Later on I encountered Walter Wink’s insightful writings in his Powers Trilogy* where he uses the angel-of-the-church imagery to describe the collective identity of individual congregations. The angel at once embodies the church’s present reality, its shadow side, as well as its Spirit-fulfilled potential. Using this metaphor, I have developed an exercise where I ask people to draw a picture of their meeting or church’s angel and then write a letter, from God’s perspective, “to the angel of [fill in name] meeting/church say… [fill in the blank].” This exercise is intended to open deeper reflection on aspects of the meeting/church that are often hidden, especially around the meeting’s shadow side as well as its potential.
The wider culture, and especially our Quaker culture, is conflict averse. Anger is violence and violence is wrong. In order to avoid discord at any cost, many of us have refined the use of passive aggressive behavior to a fine art. We conceal our real feelings of disagreement over decisions or our disapproval of someone else’s actions and seek ways to undermine that decision or person through procrastination, carrying out tasks half-heartedly, and/or setting up situations where that decision or person is bound to fail. Continue reading