What Do The Chilean Student Protests And A Wichita Police Cookout Have In Common?
In Chile, middle-class families spend nearly 40 percent of their income per child on higher education expenses—a much higher rate than in other OECD countries. And this trend is escalating. Tuition at public and private universities has increased by more than 60 percent over the past decade. One result is a high debt burden for many students post graduation. Chilean college graduates pay three to five times more of their income in student loans than their peers in OECD countries.
Students are upset because the government hasn’t gone far enough in making education affordable. Recent protests have resulted in violent clashes with local law enforcement. Several protesters have been killed, and in a recent protest 32 police officers were injured. Attempts at constructive dialogue often turn sour because different parties don’t feel heard and get defensive.
In America we’ve seen increasing tension between law enforcement and black Americans as well as other minority groups. Police officer shootings, protests, and the Black Lives Matter movement are all signs of unrest, anger, resentment, and a desperate desire for justice. Our current presidential race has further polarized the conversation around immigration, terrorism, and the rights of people of different ethnic backgrounds and orientations.
I live only 20 miles from Wichita, KS, a city that has made national headlines recently for how they’ve approached the highly volatile situation around police behavior and relationships with black people in our communities. Like many other cities in the Unites States, there have been protests about police violence against blacks and other minorities. Some have stayed peaceful, some have turned violent. In Wichita, something amazing happened.
In one of the first large Black Lives Matter protest events in Wichita, the police handled themselves with poise. They kept watch without interfering with people’s right to free speech, avoiding any violent altercations. Then, Police Chief Gordon Ramsay had an idea. Instead of another US vs. THEM protest, how about an US WITH THEM cookout? Negotiations between organizations led to a now-famous community cookout where police prepared and shared food with the community, mingling and getting to know each other, listening to each others’ concerns, and fostering a spirit of shared struggle. This event was so significant, Chief Ramsay was invited to the White House by president Obama.
A video of police officer Aaron Moses dancing with community members went viral!
What do these two situations have in common? They both help us understand the dynamics of drama and show us opportunities for moving beyond destructive conflict to compassionate accountability.
Drama is what happens when people struggle against each other or themselves, with or without awareness, to feel justified about their negative behavior.
Drama is the negative and destructive manifestation of conflict.
Similarity 1: Conflict is a natural part of progress
When there’s a gap between what we want and what we are getting, that creates conflict. Whether it’s unsustainable student debt or injustices against people of color, there’s a gap. This gap generates strong emotions and motivates people to do something.
Similarity 2: How we use the energy of conflict is a choice
The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed“. Sometimes people make the choice to gun down an innocent police officer, throw bricks at a tank, control a crowd with tear gas and water cannons, or act defiant and arrogant. Sometimes people make the choice to negotiate a community cookout. Either way, people are making difficult choices. Either way, it’s difficult and risky.
Similarity 3: Adversarial conflict always results in violence
Approaching conflict as a win-lose proposition always results in violence. When there’s conflict, people will struggle to get what they want. When they don’t get it in healthy ways, they will attempt to get it through other means. Desperation coupled with an adversarial approach to conflict is a dangerous recipe.
Similarity 4: Compassion is a process of struggling WITH, not AGAINST
Lasting solutions to the most difficult conflicts in our world will not come through adversarial conflict. Neither will they come from inappropriate compromise or impositions from outside forces. They will come organically through the process of people struggling WITH each other to feel heard, problem solve creative solutions, and make commitments that build trust. Compassion comes from the Latin root meaning “to suffer with.”
In Wichita, Police Chief Ramsay along with activist A.J. Bohannon and other members of the local Black Lives Matter movement made the difficult choice to suffer WITH each other to break down barriers of ignorance, prejudice, and hate. A community cookout won’t solve the bigger societal and systemic issues at stake, but it’s a step in the right direction!
At Next Element we are passionate about helping people leverage the energy of conflict to create new and lasting solutions. This is why we named our new book Conflict Without Casualties. Our world is in desperate need of better ways to talk to each other, hear each other, and problem-solve with each other.
We aren’t trying to minimize the struggle. We are trying to minimize the casualties.
Join us in Leading Out of Drama and finding lasting solutions.